The central theme of this year’s Asia Cup has been symmetry.
There has been a tangible correctness to how the matches have unfolded — a fair distribution of close contests, one-sided ones, and a solitary upset. The perfect circle has been achieved by how the tournament began and how it will now end — with a Pakistan-Sri Lanka fixture.
It goes without saying that the two most consistently-efficient sides have made it to Saturday’s title-clash at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium. While the teams have seen each other enough, they will nevertheless try to conceal up their sleeves an element of surprise.
Pakistan’s customary pre-match press conference on Friday began with a rundown of players on the injury-list.
“Shahid Afridi has a Grade-one hip flexor strain. Our physio is working on him and Afridi has responded well to the treatment. We will take a final decision tomorrow,” said team manager Zakir Khan.
He also provided an update on Sharjeel Khan, who was “98 per cent fit”; on Ahmed Shehzad “struggling with his left shoulder”; and a “stiff” Umar Gul. All the three, Zakir said, were responding well to treatment.
It isn’t always that a team official reveals, without prompting, injury-related issues this elaborately, especially on the eve of a big game. Whether it’s a smokescreen against the Lankans — a mind-game to catch them unawares — is open to conjecture. But you would assume that a professional unit such as Sri Lanka might not take everything at face value.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s training session in the morning resembled a jamboree. Skipper Misbah-ul-Haq, in a thorough contrast to his on-field persona, was the most boisterous as the team played football.
Afridi didn’t take part in the game, and after a brief appearance, headed inside. His recent batting bravado has made his presence more significant. Shehzad and Umar Akmal are the other batting stars even as Misbah hasn’t clicked yet. Saeed Ajmal and Umar Gul, like they have done thus far, will have to shepherd the bowling force.
On the other hand, Sri Lanka didn’t train and opted for a relaxing pool session in the evening. Its top-order — helmed by Kumar Sangakkara, the leading run-scorer (248) this year — has been sturdy and captain Angelo Mathews’s fine effort against Bangladesh has raised hopes of some middle-order insurance.
Sri Lanka would, however, expect the out-of-form Mahela Jayawardene and Dinesh Chandimal to make substantial contributions.
When Sri Lanka came on top in the tournament opener in Fatullah , Lasith Malinga struck the killer-blows to derail Pakistan’s chase.
In a second coming of sorts, Ajantha Mendis has hit the right note, claiming the most number of wickets (nine) after three games.
Although there is hardly an advantage that you can attribute to one team in favour of another, Pakistan clearly holds the edge so far as crowd-support is concerned.
The teams (from):
Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq (capt.), Abdur Rehman, Ahmed Shehzad, Anwar Ali, Bilawal Bhatti, Fawad Alam, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Hafeez
Mohammad Talha, Saeed Ajmal, Shahid Afridi, Sharjeel Khan, Sohaib Maqsood, Umar Akmal (wk) and Umar Gul.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (capt), Dinesh Chandimal, Chathuranga de Silva, Mahela Jayawardene, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga, Ajantha Mendis, Kusal Perera, Thisara Perera, Dhammika Prasad, Ashan Priyanjan, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Sachithra Senanayake and Lahiru Thirimanne.
Play starts at 1.30 p.m. (IST).