LAHORE: Led by Babar Azam, Pakistan take on minnows Nepal in the opener of the Asia Cup at Multan Stadium in Multan on Wednesday (today). It is also a maiden contest between Pakistan and Nepal at the top level. The 2023 Asia Cup will be co-hosted by Pakistan and Sri Lanka and the two hosts are joined by Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal for the 16th edition of the event. The tournament started all the way back in 1984 in the ODI format, although the recent editions have alternated between ODI and T20I formats. The 2023 edition will be played as a ODI (50-over) competition. India are the most successful side in the tournament with seven titles (six ODI and one T20I) to their name. Sri Lanka come in second place with six (five ODI and one T20I) titles. Pakistan have won the Asia Cup twice. The Asia Cup 2023 with two groups, comprising three teams each, will play in round-robin style within their group. Top two sides from each group will then qualify for the Super Four stage. The Super Four will be another round-robin series of games. The top two sides from there will qualify for the final, to be played on September 17 in Colombo. Pakistan enter the Asia Cup with momentum on their side. They topped the ICC Rankings for ODI teams on Saturday after securing a 3-0 whitewash over Afghanistan in Sri Lanka. This is the second instance of the team surmounting the chart since April. Pakistan also boast the best win/loss ratio of 2.750 with 22 wins in 31 matches since in this World Cup cycle. Pakistan have enjoyed success across formats at home and away recently. In April-May, they levelled the T20 International series 2-2 and won the five-match ODI series 4-1 against New Zealand, whitewashed Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka in the two-Test series in July and defeated Afghanistan 3-0 in ODIs in Sri Lanka this month. Pakistan’s last outing in Multan in the 50-over format was in June last year and the home side enjoyed resounding success over the West Indies by thrashing them 3-0 in the three-match series. Pakistan have played 10 ODIs in Multan and won seven. “It is always a great feeling to play in front of the passionate Multan crowd and we all are very excited that the Asia Cup is beginning from this city,” Pakistan captain Babar said on the eve of the contest. “I want to congratulate Nepal for qualifying for the Asia Cup and I hope that their participation will give a boost to the development of the sport in the country. We are looking forward to playing Nepal and I am sure it will be a good contest.” Big occasion for Nepal: For Nepal, it is a big occasion for them, a day of celebration no matter how things pan out on the field. Nepal’s very presence at this Asia Cup is validation of their rise as a cricketing force. They got here by winning the ten-team ACC Men’s Premier Cup in April-May, clinching the title ahead of teams such as UAE and Hong Kong, who have featured in past Asia Cups. Before that, they put together a run of 11 wins in 12 ODIs to rise improbably up the ODI World Cup League 2 table and seal a spot in the ODI World Cup qualifier. Having only gained ODI status in 2018, Nepal are now ranked a tantalising 15th in the format, a sign of how close they are to achieving even bigger dreams given that the next ODI World Cup, in 2027, will feature 14 teams. Squads: Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Shadab Khan (vice-captain), Abdullah Shafique, Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Rauf, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Haris (wk), Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Naseem Shah, Salman Ali Agha, Saud Shakeel, Shaheen Afridi and Usama Mir. Traveling reserve: Tayyab Tahir. Nepal: Rohit Paudel (captain), Kushal Bhurtel, Aasif Sheikh, Bhim Sharki, Kushal Malla, Aarif Sheikh, Dipendra Singh Airee, Gulshan Jha, Sompal Kami, Karan KC, Sandeep Lamichhane, Lalit Rajbanshi, Pratish GC, Mousom Dhakal, Sundeep Jora, Kishore Mahato and Arjun Saud.