The strange ways of cricketing fortunes over the last three weeks have ensured that Sri Lanka's form has often determined India's fate.

Recently Mahela Jayawardene's men had to succumb against Australia at Melbourne if India was to qualify for the Commonwealth Bank Series final. Sri Lanka won by nine runs and M.S. Dhoni's men advanced their return tickets.

Now in a piece of delicious irony, the Men in Blue, at least the devout among them will be muttering prayers to their favourite deities, seeking a Sri Lankan triumph over Bangladesh in the Asia Cup's last league match at the Sher-E-Bangla National Stadium here on Tuesday.

With Pakistan (9 pts) having sealed its spot in the final, India's (8) lone obstacle ahead of qualifying for the summit clash is a Bangladesh (4) victory against Sri Lanka (0).

A win would push the host's tally to eight and since in the head-to-head equation, Bangladesh has defeated India, Mushfiqur Rahim's men would sail through to Thursday's big match.

No favours

Jayawardene was asked about his squad's mysterious hold over India's progress in two successive tournaments and with a smile, he said: “Well I don't know but we are not here to do anyone any favours.”

The skipper is well aware of the steady decline in his team's fortunes ever since finishing as the runner-up in the World Cup and he wants the men from the Emerald Isle, to savour a solitary victory before returning to Colombo.

Sri Lanka's losses against India and Pakistan over the past week, have been in sync with its overall record since April 2.

Defeats against England, Australia, Pakistan and South Africa, and the inability to raise its game during the CB Series finals, have revealed a team struggling with the pangs of transition.

In the Asia Cup too, Sri Lanka has entirely pinned its batting dreams on the big two — Jayawardene (90 runs, average 45.00) and Kumar Sangakkara (136, 68) — while the rest have failed.

Totals of 254 and 188 hardly do justice to the visitors' talent or to the placid pitches that wink at mammoth scores. Lasith Malinga too has not been at his best with his yorkers making way for some erratic bouncers during the key contest against Pakistan.

“All our 14 players are fit,” Jayawardene said and that for now is the lone good news from the Sri Lankan ranks though the team, considering its pedigree, will fancy its chances against Bangladesh.

The fact that a victory over Bangladesh is no longer considered a certainty is an apt reflection of the enormous gains made by the host through this tournament. The fracas over Tamim Iqbal's inclusion is now forgotten and the squad has got on with its task of trying to upset its fancied neighbours.

“It will be a big mistake to consider Bangladesh as a weak team,” Misbah-ul-Haq had warned at the launch party, last week.

The Pakistan captain's words have now acquired a soothsayer's weight, with his own team suffering a close shave and then India losing its way when Tamim, Jahurul Islam, Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur stirred up some serious-heat in the chase.

The moot question though is whether Bangladesh can extend excellence over two matches?

The team may have had a measure of Kenya or New Zealand in the past but consistency has been a rare elixir for the Bangladeshis. Local scribes wistfully recall a 2009' Tri-series final here in which the host mustered 152 and then had Sri Lanka on the mat at five for six!

Sensing a favourable finish, Bangladesh froze while Sri Lanka snatched a two-wicket victory. The twin heroes of that match — Sangakkara and Farveez Maharoof — will be on view here on Tuesday and Mushfiqur's men have to stifle the duo and the rest, so that Bangladesh can book a rare final berth in a multi-nation tournament.

The audience will also include a group of Indians glued to their televisions at the Pan Pacific Hotel, located in the city's bustling heart.

The teams (from):

Bangladesh: Mushfiqur Rahim (captain), Imrul Kayes, Tamim Iqbal, Mohammad Nazimuddin, Jahurul Islam, Mohammad Mahmudullah, Shakib Al Hasan, Nasir Hossain, Mashrafe Mortaza, Abdur Razzak, Elias Sunny, Nazmul Hossain, Shahadat Hossain and Anamul Haque.

Sri Lanka: Mahela Jayawardene (captain), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Upul Tharanga, Kumar Sangakkara, Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne, Thisara Perera, Farveez Maharoof, Sachithra Senanayake, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Seekkuge Prasanna, Suranga Lakmal and Shaminda Eranga.

Umpires: Steve Davis and Paul Reiffel; Third umpire: S. Ravi; Match referee: David Boon.

Match starts at 1.30 p.m. IST.

Keywords: Asia Cup


Bangladesh buoyantMarch 20, 2012

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