Asia Cup 2022: Spirited Lions up against unpredictable Pakistan

A Sri Lankan victory in Sunday’s final at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium may not heal the lives of distressed people back home, but it will certain lift the morale of the stricken nation



Sri Lanka's players sing their national anthem. — AFP
Sri Lanka's players sing their national anthem. — AFP
by

Rituraj Borkakoty

Published: Sat 10 Sep 2022, 6:45 PM

Last updated: Sat 10 Sep 2022, 10:40 PM

A couple of weeks ago, two teams arrived on these shores for the DP World Asia Cup with the same dream of winning the trophy.

While their goals were same, there was a stark difference in the sources they drew their inspiration from.

Pakistan had the deep-lying urge to fire warning shots at the big guns, including bitter rivals India, ahead of next month’s T20 World Cup in Australia, in an attempt to regain their past glory in cricket.

Sri Lanka, Pakistan’s opponent in Sunday’s final, simply wanted to bring some relief and joy to their country where people are battling an acute shortage of food and medicines amid their worst economic and political crisis in history.

A Sri Lankan victory in Sunday’s final at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium may not heal the lives of distressed people back home, but it will certain lift the morale of the stricken nation.

But for that to happen, Dasun Shanaka’s team need to punch above their weight one last time in a tournament that has produced several nail-biting last-over finishes.

The Lankans did that wonderfully against India and Pakistan — they mastered a tricky chase against Rohit Sharma’s men with their middle-order depth before Pakistan were caught off guard by the guile and craft of their spinners in the dress rehearsal for the final.

Collective strength

A team devoid of superstars, Sri Lanka have made a stirring comeback in the tournament after losing their opening match in embarrassing fashion to Afghanistan on August 27 when they were bowled out for 105 with only three of their batsmen reaching double figures.

Now two weeks later, their stirring fightbacks and the admirable display of collective effort have erased the memory of their abject surrender to the fearless Afghans in the tournament opener.

Pathum Nissanka, the team’s 24-year-old opener, has come of age in this tournament with three important knocks (35, 52 and 55 not out) in the last three games against Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.

Barring the failure on Friday, Kusal Mendis has been immense in providing the team with sold starts from the top order.

And captain Dasun Shanaka has led the young team remarkably well with his cameos in the lower middle-order the added bonus.

Wanindu Hasaranga, the trump card for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League, showed why he is so highly rated with a wonderful spell of leg-spin bowling against Pakistan on Friday, even castling Babar Azam after beating the Pakistan captain in flight.

The Pakistan team. — AP
The Pakistan team. — AP

Unpredictable Pakistan

Babar was slowly getting into a rhythm after his four straight failures in the tournament that baffled the pundits.

The talismanic Pakistan batsman can ill afford to have another poor game at a time when Fakhar Zaman, the number three, is battling demons in his own mind, having just scored 96 runs from six matches in the tournament.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Rizwan, the team’s engine room, needs support from Babar and Fakhar to protect the unpredictable middle-order.

After the team’s stunning batting collapse against Afghanistan, all-rounder Shadab Khan admitted that Pakistan must learn how not to give away momentum in matches.

In order to become a team that can go toe-to-toe with any side for World Cup glory in Australia, Pakistan certainly need to be more assertive in big moments.

The good news though is the return of Naseem Shah for the title-decider.

But the cricket-obsessed country will hope that this time the rising fast bowler will not be required to save them with the bat against a Sri Lankan team which is proving to be a tough nut to crack.

TODAY'S MATCH:

Final

Pakistan vs Sri Lanka

Dubai International Cricket Stadium

6 pm UAE Time

SQUADS:

Pakistan: Babar Azam (C), Shadab Khan, Asif Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Naseem Shah, Shahnawaz Dahani, Usman Qadir, Mohammad Hasnain, Hasan Ali.

Sri Lanka: Dasun Shanaka (C), Danushka Gunathilaka, Pathum Nissanka, Kusal Mendis (wk), Charith Asalanka, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Ashen Bandara, Dhananjaya de Silva, Wanindu Hasaranga, Maheesh Theekshana, Jeffrey Vandersay, Praveen Jayawickrama, Chamika Karunaratne, Dilshan Madushanka, Matheesha Pathirana, Nuwanidu Fernando, Dinesh Chandimal.

HEAD-TO-HEAD:

Matches: 22

Pakistan: 13

Sri Lanka: 9


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