MIRPUR - Defending champions Pakistan will have to contend with minor injury issues to key players Shahid Afridi and Umar Gul as they take on a consistent Sri Lanka in the final of the Asia Cup cricket tournament in Mirpur on Saturday. Afridi, who has played a pivotal role in turning around the fortunes of Pakistan in this tournament, has suffered a grade one hip flexor strain and his availability will be known only on Saturday morning. Paceman Gul is little bit “stiff” and Sharjeel Khan along with opener Ahmed Shehzad also have some niggles, going into the title clash.
The Sri Lankans, who had defeated the defending champions in the tournament opener, are yet to lose a match in the mega event of the sub-continent and they would hope that their campaign culminates with the title. Pakistan’s chances would depend on how they tame seasoned Kumar Sangakkara and handle the bowling of paceman Lasith Malinga and spinner Ajantha Mendis. It was Malinga, who had taken key wickets of Misbah-Ul Haq and Afridi in their previous clash and Sangakkara is in prime form in this tournament. He has hit one century and two fifties and his rare failure was against Bangladesh on Friday. Pakistan, on the other hand have wriggled out of difficult situations to reach their second successive Asia Cup final and a lot of credit goes to Afridi for his fiery knocks of 34 and 59 against India and Bangladesh respectively.
Those two knocks not only revived the team’s hopes of their title defence but also injected the much-needed spark and life to what had been a low key Asia Cup affair. After shattering India’s hopes, the ‘boom-boom’ Afridi returned to devastate the host country as he led Pakistan to a great win, chasing Bangladesh’s highest ever 326, with his 18-ball half-century.
Those two knocks could not have come at a better time for Afridi who was facing a lot of flak back home for his string of failures. The all-rounder has singlehandedly made Pakistan favourites against Sri Lanka. “I just knew that both the matches were important for Pakistan to win. There are many reasons that I won’t like to discuss but both of them were very important for me as well as the country,” Afridi said about the importance of the two knocks.
“There is no such thing that you will score runs with the bat every day. I’ve given my focus to bowling as well. I want to get myself ready in such a way that I deliver to the team, be it in batting or bowling. This is not the stage for me to occupy a slot in the side. I want to give something to my country with my performance.” Sri Lanka would look to do the things quietly with all the buzz surrounding Afridi. Lankans would hope that the duo of Malinga and Mendis manage to rein in Afridi. It would be an interesting battle between Afridi against Malinga’s toe-crushing yorkers and Mendis in his guile with the doosras.
For Sri Lanka, the form of Mahela Jayawardene would be a worry. He has managed just 36 runs from four innings. Pakistan would want their skipper Misbah-ul-Haq (78 runs) to get back among runs. “He (Jayawardene) normally bats very well it’s only in the last three to four matches he has failed. He’s a legend of cricket. He can come back very strongly at any time. He’s our key batsman along with Sangakkara. Hope he comes back to form against Pakistan,” Sri Lanka allrounder Thisara Perera said.
The Lankans may not be a team that shows emotions or throws temperament like that of Pakistanis but they love to go about their things quietly and in a professional manner. The best thing for the Lankas is that Sangakkara is in the middle of a dream run in Bangladesh as the senior pro is leading the Asia Cup run chart with 248 runs at an average of 248, something that has come on the back of his maiden triple century in Test series.
It will be interesting to see how they cope up the challenge of the Pakistani attack considered as the best among the Asian teams. Pakistan will look to bring back left arm pacer Junaid Khan who was rested against Bangladesh, while Malinga will return for the Lankans. Sangakkara is the man behind Lankan’s seven-match winning run, including five at the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium as they know the conditions like the back of their hands, having landed here in January.
PAKISTAN: Misbah-ul-Haq (c), Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Sohaib Maqsood, Fawad Alam, Abdur Rehman, Shahid Afridi, Umar Akmal, Umar Gul, Mohammad Talha, Saeed Ajmal, Bilawal Bhatti, Junaid Khan, Anwar Ali and Sharjeel Khan.
SRI LANKA: Angelo Mathews (c), Kusal Perera, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Ashan Priyanjan, Angelo Mathews, Chaturanga de Silva, Thisara Perera, Sachithra Senanayake, Ajantha Mendis, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga, Dinesh Chandimal and Dhammika Prasad.