KARACHI, June 21: Hong Kong skipper Tabarak Dar has described the forthcoming Asia Cup as an excellent opportunity for his largely inexperienced cricket side to lock horns with the cricketing powers such as Pakistan and India.

Talking to Dawn shortly after his squad underwent an extensive training session in the practice area of the National Stadium on Saturday afternoon, Tabarak said the showpiece event would give Hong Kong more exposure of international cricket.

“I believe this [Asia Cup] is a very good chance to play with big guns Pakistan and India, the two world-class outfits. And if we are able to compete with them it would only benefit Hong Kong cricket,” said the 32-year-old Tabarak, who was born in Mirpur, Azad Kashmir.

Hong Kong, who lost both preliminary round matches in their previous Asia Cup appearance in Sri Lanka four years ago, play hosts Pakistan on Tuesday in the Group ‘B’ opener here before taking on India a day later.

“Even though our task is very tough, we are pretty optimistic of putting up a good show here because the stage is set for our lads to prove everyone where we stand in international cricket,” Tabarak, who is an all-rounder, admitted.

“At the end of the day, we are not here on holidays. Our aim is to be competitive in this tournament and try to create an upset or two. Playing alongside the best teams will be a good learning process for my team.”

Asked to identify the team’s strengths, the Hong Kong captain pointed out that there is no standout player to speak of.

“I can’t single out any name, but there are individuals in this squad who are capable of big things. Basically, ours is a side that contains all-round players. However, we are pinning our bowling hopes on Nadeem Ahmed, who was a youngster when we played in Sri Lanka in 2004,” Tabarak remarked.

Talking of the standard of the sport in Hong Kong, Tabarak said the majority of the cricketers are generally from other countries.

“At the moment it is the expatriates who are playing top cricket in Hong Kong, which is an associate member of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC). However, at the grassroots level, there are locals of the Chinese origin who have taken up the game. But in general, there are Pakistanis, Indians, Englishmen and Australians who are dominating the main league,” he revealed.

When asked how his team had prepared for the tournament, the Hong Kong skipper lamented the preparations had suffered because of inclement weather.

“We were unable to have training sessions back home since the rains badly affected our practice schedules. In between we were lucky enough to play a few practice matches in Pakistan sometime ago that helped our cause.

“But we wanted to play a few more warm-up matches in Pakistan this time also to make up for the lost time. However, the Pakistan Cricket Board turned down our short-noticed request for logistic reasons, which we can understand,” he commented.

Hong Kong, who qualified for the ninth edition of the Asia Cup after finishing runners-up to fellow qualifiers United Arab Emirates in the ACC Trophy held in Malaysia in August 2006, have engaged Aftab Habib as their national coach after the former England Test batsman signed a three-year contract with them last October.

“The arrival of Aftab [Habib] will prove beneficial for Hong Kong because we have been struggling with our batting,” he said.

“He [Aftab] is working hard with the batsmen to overcome their technical deficiencies. I’m sure his presence will be a big boost for Hong Kong cricket in the long term,” Tabarak opined.