The ACC Trophy played since 1996, when Bangladesh beat UAE in the Final, is the premier 50-overs tournament for the non-Test playing countries of Asia. It used to be the UAE that would carry all before them in the ACC Trophy, winners four times in a row since 2000. Hong Kong beat them in 2008 heralding a change, and since then it has been Afghanistan that has won the senior team 50 overs and 20-overs events, and ICC events, along with qualifying for two World Twenty20 Cups as well as achieving ODI status. Afghanistan though, are not guaranteed to win the ACC Trophy this time.

The Afghanistan squad are almost the same as that which played against India and England a couple of weeks ago in Sri Lanka, where they ran India close before being steam-rollered by England. And there won't be bowlers of the calibre of Ravinder Ashwin or England's pacemen up against them but there will be spinners of the UAE and Nepal, in particular, who are guaranteed to make life difficult for the Afghan batsmen. Two years ago, Afghanistan were 1 run away from being knocked out of the ACC Trophy in the qualifying round. Any lessening of effort and intensity and the aspirants to their throne will pounce.

Of those aspirants, UAE, the home team this ACC Trophy, are the strongest. Seasoned like palace timber, Khurram Khan at the helm, with fresh talent aplenty, familiar with conditions at all six grounds (Al Dhaid and Sharjah - batting friendly; GCA 1 and 2 - good cricket wickets; Abu Dhabi - seaming and swinging) they've already beaten Afghanistan twice in the past year at Sharjah, in the 50-over ICC World Cricket League Championship. The heat - mid-30's Centigrade - certainly won't affect the UAE as much as the other teams.

Hong Kong, chock-full of talent themselves, are in a rebuilding phase and may just be found wanting in the crunch. Nepal, though, are the team with momentum. Winners of Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Division 4 last month, they are now playing their regular percentage cricket with an added dash of confidence and flamboyance. They have the bowlers to win, whether they have the batsmen is the big question. Oman are the most dangerous of dark horses.

There's plenty to play for, at the top and the bottom. The top three to play in an ACC Emerging Teams event next year when they will be up against the 'A Teams from the four Test-playing nations. The bottom two from the ten competing here go down to the Challenge Division, which discounts them from the ACC Twenty20 in 2013, which no player or administration wants. Open at the top, its open at the bottom as well though one would be surprised if newly-promoted Maldives go straight back down. Skill matters at this level, coaching and playing depth as well, but also heart. And Maldives have plenty of heart.

Cricinfo will be carrying live ball-by-ball updates throughout the event on all but three of the matches, which start at 0530hrs GMT.

ACC Trophy Elite 2012
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Filed October 2nd, 2012