Sri Lanka and Pakistan are more like brothers from different mothers – both nations opposed the ownership of cricket by a certain Mr. Srinivasan and risked ostracisation from cricket’s monocracy, and may well ending up playing each other a lot more frequently in the upcoming months. But the curtain raiser of the Asia Cup represents the ideal opportunity for two regional foes to get off to a solid start in a tournament that is important to both for reasons obvious – Sri Lanka’s recent form has been nothing to ride home about while Pakistan are the perennial underperformers in ICC tournaments. And with Pakistan v Sri Lanka becoming the new Sri Lanka v India of world cricket, both nations would be keen to put one over their subcontinental enemies.
Limited overs encounters between these two cricketing giants have produced exciting contests in recent times – Pakistan won the December ODI series by the odd-game in five, and once again in the Asia Cup, the two teams look as closely matched as never before. Sri Lanka go into the tournament with convincing wins over Bangladesh in the test and ODI series, while Pakistan’s fortunes have taken an upturn in recent months, and the defending champions would once again be a force to reckon with this time around.
Pakistan undoubtedly have the more potent bowling force – the likes of Junaid Khan and Umar Gul have a certain fondness for taking Sri Lankan wickets, while spin wizard Saeed Ajmal destroyed the Lankan lions in the bilateral series in December. And with Shahid Afridialways a potent spin option with his devastating leg-breaks, run-scoring would get even tougher for Kumar Sangakkara and Co. In the previous series, Afridi was consistent across all disciplines, and Pakistan would once again look to ride on Shahid Afridi’s purple patch.
The contest between two sides promises the mouthwatering clash between Lanka’s strong batting line-up and Pakistan’s destructive bowling unit. Tillakratne Dilshan‘s involvement would be restricted to cheering his countrymen from the comfort of his couch as he nurses an injured hand, and this could mean an opening combination of Kusal Perera and Mahela Jayawardene, the latter’s return from injury could well tip the scales in favor of the island nation. There is genuine quality all throughout the side – Kumar Sangakkara, Dinesh Chandimal, Ashan Priyanjan, Angelo Matthews and Thisara Perera – that is a top-draw batting order if ever there was one!
The match represents a tactical battle more than anything else – those little moments of brilliance could well decide the outcome of the inaugral match of the Asia Cup. Can Pakistan’s bowlers keep the latest triple centurion Kumar Sangakkara quiet? Can Mohammed Hafeez come to the fore? Does the Sri Lankan have the cutting edge? All in all, we are in for an absolute treat as two great rivals renew what is all set to become one of the greatest rivalries of the modern game.
Team Line-ups(expected) :
Sri Lanka (probable): Kusal Perera, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Dinesh Chandimal, Ashan Priyanjan, Angelo Mathews (capt.), Thisara Perera, Sachitra Senenayake, Lasith Malinga, Ajantha Mendis, Suranga Lakmal