Cricket is all set to mark its return to the Asian Games fold after a nine-year hiatus. The sport was not a part of the continental event’s last edition at Jakarta in 2018 after being played for consecutive editions in 2010 Guangzhou and 2014 Incheon.

This time, the event will be held in the Twenty20 format for both men’s and women’s events.

The Indian cricket teams – both men and women – will however make their Asian Games debut at the delayed 2022 edition in Hangzhou after having skipped the previous two editions.

Following the heartbreak at the 2022 Commonwealth Games and the 2023 ICC Women’s T20 World Cup, the Indian women’s cricket team will start as favourites to take home the gold medal in Hangzhou.

The women’s edition will see a total of eight teams battle it out for a spot on the podium in China.

The Indian team will open their campaign directly in the quarter-finals on September 21 against Malaysia. Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka will follow the same route, whereas the other four teams – Mongolia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Malaysia are drawn to play the first round.

All timings in local time (Courtesy: Hangzhou Asian Games)

India favourites

The Board of Control for Cricket in India has sent a full strength 15-member women’s squad for the Asian Games. All the big names, including the likes of Smriti Mandhana, U-19 World Cup winning captain Shafali Verma, Richa Ghosh, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, and others are expected to be in action in China.

In a last minute move, left-arm-pacer Anjali Sarvani was replaced by all-rounder Pooja Vastrakar in the final list released by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports on Thursday – just a week before India play their first match.

The 34-year-old Harmanpreet Kaur, the team captain was handed a ban of two international matches following her outburst at the umpires in India’s series against Bangladesh in July. She will miss India’s first two games at the Asian Games – she may only be eligible to compete in the final should the team reach that far – since the competition has been accorded international status by the International Cricket Council.

Arch-rivals Pakistan are expected to pose the biggest threat to a smooth Indian crusade in Hangzhou. Not only are the women in green two-time Asian Games champions, but they are also coming off a 3-0 T20I series clean sweep against South Africa – the runners-up at the women’s T20 World Cup earlier in the year.

Sri Lanka, the bronze medallists from the previous edition, too enter the Asian Games on the back of a 2-1 T20I series win over heavyweights England.

Albeit both Pakistan and Sri Lanka lost the ODI series which followed soon after, they have had the much needed game time heading into the Asian Games.

The same, however, cannot be said about India. They last played as a unit over two months ago against Bangladesh in July.

Bangladesh, the silver medallists in the previous two editions, did not make it easy for the Indians then. Kaur and Co had to battle hard for a 2-1 win in the T20Is, while the ODIs ended level at 1-1 with the series decider ending in a tie.

While four Indians – Mandhana, Rodrigues, Ghosh, and Kaur – have played in The Hundred Women’s competition after the Bangladesh series, the rest have been missing in action since then.

Mandhana, who won the title with South Braves, started off with consecutive half-centuries in The Hundred but soon fizzled out, whereas Rodrigues, who plied her trade for the Northern Superchargers, struggled for runs in the competition scoring just 151 in nine innings.

Ghosh and Kaur too had an indifferent tournament, registering 107 and 72 runs respectively in six innings each.

Even with all this and the absence of a proper head coach, India will start as favourites in the women’s competition – thanks to the team’s dominant record against their Asian neighbours.

While India leads 11-3 against Pakistan on the head-to-head count, it further improves to 11-2 and 18-4 against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka respectively.

Besides the conditions in Hangzhou also remain alien to all the teams, further negating the lack of game time for the Indians.

Men’s team eye history

Unlike the women’s team, the BCCI has sent a second string men’s team to the Asian Games. With the ICC Men’s ODI World Cup beginning on October 5, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have also named weaker teams for the Hangzhou Games.

Prolific batter Ruturaj Gaikwad will lead India and will have the likes of Yashashvi Jaiswal, Shivam Dube, Arshdeep Singh, Tilak Varma, Washington Sundar – all of whom have been in the fringes of the national team, for company.

Shivam Mavi, who is suffering from a back injury, was replaced with Bengal pacer Akash Deep in the squad.

India will start their campaign on October 3 in the quarter-finals. A total of 15 teams including heavyweights Pakistan, reigning champions Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and others will be in action in the men’s event.

India women’s squad:

Harmanpreet Kaur (c), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Richa Ghosh, Amanjot Kaur, Devika Vaidya, Pooja Vastrakar, Titas Sadhu, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Minnu Mani, Kanika Ahuja, Uma Chetry, Anusha Bareddy

India men’s squad

Ruturaj Gaikwad (c), Yashashvi Jaiswal, Rahul Tripati, Tilak Varma, Rinku Singh, Jitesh Sharma, Prabh Simran Singh, Washington Sundar, Ravi Bishnoi, Avesh Khan, Arshdeep Singh, Mukesh Kumar, Akash Deep, Shivam Dube, Shahbaz Ahmad

The Asian Games will be broadcast live on Sony Sports Network and streamed on Sony Liv.