Having witnessed a socio-economic crisis coupled with worst democratic turmoil in its history, the Sri Lankan cricket team would like to provide its countrymen with an emotional catharsis if it happens to beat a much superior Pakistan in the Asia Cup final here on Sunday.
Technically, Sri Lanka are the hosts of this Asia Cup but call it a cruel twist of fate, the tournament had to be shifted to UAE for security reasons.
It could have been infinitely sweeter had Dasun Shanaka and his men would have played the final at the iconic Khettarama Stadium (now Premadasa Stadium) but the kind of performance they have put in the Super 4s would make anyone believe that it would be anything but easy for Babar Azam’s side.
Whether it’s the Asian Cricket Council or general public of Dubai, everyone wanted an Indo-Pak final but the gutsy cricketers from the island nation have earned their right to be in the summit clash.
And if that wasn’t enough, Friday’s easy win against their final opponents was the kind of warning signal that will keep Pakistan on tenterhooks.
But at Dubai, buoyed by a sizeable Pakistani population bursting its lungs out, the Mohammed Rizwans, Mohammed Nawazs and Naseem Shahs would like to lift their games on the big day, which has been a tradition that is so relatable with the legacy of their national teams over the years.
But in Sri Lanka, they have an opposition that could be more than handful and a team that has certainly redeemed itself in a format where they had become world champions back in 2014.
The fortunes of Sri Lanka cricket nose-dived just like the country’s eco-system in general, with poor selection and internal politics in the board not helping their cause either.
The team that Shanaka led during their away series in India some six months back had more or less same bunch of players but what Sri Lanka had done successfully is change their T20 gameplan, which is now filled with aggression.
Even without Dushmantha Chammera, the bowling attack has looked potent but there is one area where Rahul Dravid and the Indian team could take a note of is how impactful Sri Lanka’s top five batters have been.
Two right handed openers, Kusal Mendis and Pathum Nissanka have been positivity personified at the top while likes of Danushka Gunathilaka, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Shanaka himself and Chamikaatne Karunaratne have all made runs that matter. A case in point was how they chased down a target of 70 odd against Afghanistan, where none of the batters scored more than 35 but all of them made those runs at a strike-rate of 150 plus.
In the five games so far, the Sri Lankan batters have hit 28 sixes and 62 fours, which gives a story of their approach.
In bowling, Mahesh Theekshana has come up as a potent spin bowling partner of Wanindu Hasaranga while Dilshan Madhushanka has shouldered the responsibility of the lead pacer quite admirably.
In comparison, Pakistan have made it to the finals but Babar’s own form has deserted him throughout the tournament. Only 63 runs from five games aren’t something one expects from a player of his calibre.
The skipper would like to sing the redemption song in the match that matters most. Pakistan’s strength is their bowling attack that has Naseem Shah, showing improvement with each passing day, along with Harris Rauf and Mohammed Hasnain. The two spinners, leg-break bowler Shadab Khan (ER 5.79 and 7 wickets) and left-arm orthodox Mohammed Nawaz (ER 6.05 and 8 wickets) have also been very impressive.
However, in Dubai, one has seen that toss has become an important factor as Pakistan aren’t good while batting first and in the two games that they have lost in the tournament against India and Sri Lanka, they have batted first.
None of the top-order batters have a strike rate of 120 plus, especially those who have faced more than 50 balls in the tournament. Therefore Pakistan’s best chance would be to win the toss and field first as Rizwan is always in control when Pakistan are chasing.
Teams (from): Sri Lanka: Dasun Shanaka (c), Danushka Gunathilaka, Pathum Nissanka, Kusal Mendis, 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 and Dinesh Chandimal.
Pakistan: Babar Azam (c), Shadab Khan, Asif Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Naseem Shah, Shahnawaz Dahani, Usman Qadir, Mohammed Hasnain, Hasan Ali.
Match starts 7:30pm IST.