Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will have an eye fixed firmly on the 2019 World Cup when they get the Asia Cup underway in Dubai on Saturday.
Defending champions India, who have won the Asia Cup six times, are led by dashing opener Rohit Sharma as regular captain and world-class batsman Virat Kohli is rested after a gruelling tour of England.
Sri Lanka, hot on India's heels with five titles, two-time winners Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and qualifiers Hong Kong complete the line-up.
Sharma said although a lot cricket is to be played between now and the World Cup, to be held in England between May 30 to July 15 next year, the Asia Cup can help in the build-up.
“In a way you can say that (the Asia Cup is a build-up) because every team wants to go to the World Cup wanting to know their combination,” Sharma said at a press conference.
“But having said that it's important to focus on the job at hand rather than thinking too far ahead. All the teams and players have a great opportunity to do well and stake claims for the World Cup squad.”
Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed described the event as a “journey towards” next year's tournament in England.
“Yes, there are still eight months to the World Cup, we have to play a lot of cricket before that. But yes the Asia Cup is a continuation of the journey towards the World Cup,” Sarfraz said.
Sri Lankan captain Angelo Mathews and Bangladesh's Mashrafe Mortaza described the Asia Cup as the process towards the World Cup.
“It's a process and in a tournaments like this we have to find the right combination with an eye on the World Cup,” said Mathews.
Mortaza believed his team has worked hard for the Asia Cup.
“Asia Cup is an important tournament so we have done a good homework for it and build-up towards the World Cup which is still far,” said Mortaza.
The highlight of the Asia Cup remains a high-profile group match between arch-rivals Pakistan and India on Wednesday in Dubai.
They have a rich tradition of playing in the neighbouring state of Sharjah, where their matches took place from 1984-2000, but have not toured United Arab Emirates since 2006, when they played a two-match series in Abu Dhabi.
Sharma admitted it will be an exciting clash, the first between the neighbours since Pakistan won the Champions Trophy final in London in June last year.
“Yes, it will be exciting to play Pakistan here after a long gap but by no way I am saying it's the only game,” Sharma said. “The focus is on the whole tournament as other teams are also eyeing the title.”
Pakistan, India and Hong Kong are in Group A while Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan form Group B.
The top two teams from each group will qualify for the Super Four and the top two teams from Super Four will play the September 28 final in Dubai.
Five Asia Cup matches will be played in Abu Dhabi.