Pakistan kickstart Asia Cup defence against Sri Lanka

International cricket in Bangladesh has always had a few readily-identifiable bases. While initially it was the Bangabandhu National Stadium, it has been nearly a decade since it ceded ground to football (another sport that fuels fan-frenzy in this country).

From then on, it has been the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Mirpur and the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium in Chittagong — both of which have hosted a number of games — that have donned the role of principal playing arenas.

Fatullah has been no more than a blip on the radar — if indeed it registered one in the first place. This town, north-east of Dhaka in the outskirts of Narayanganj, has embossed its presence as a growing industrial centre. The Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium (which is also known as the Narayanganj Osmani Stadium) has thus far hosted five One-Day Internationals and one Test since its first ODI in March 2006.

It was in November last year — when Bangladesh played New Zealand — that Fatullah featured on the international calendar for the first time since 2006. It is in this relatively unknown centre that defending champion Pakistan takes on Sri Lanka in the opening fixture of the Asia Cup on Tuesday.

The teams themselves, though, don’t have many secrets locked away from the other. In UAE, when they played a thoroughly engaging series — particularly the Test matches — Pakistan stole a march on the island nation right at the end with a first-rate exhibition of attack-minded batsmanship.

Skipper Misbah-ul-Haq will hope for a reprisal of such alacrity while being secure in the knowledge that his bowling attack has the edge. There isn’t a lot a leader ought to grumble about when he can call upon Umar Gul, Junaid Khan, and Saeed Ajmal.

Fortunately for him, the resources are in consonance with his objectives; in Sharjeel Khan, Ahmed Shehzad, the in-form Mohammad Hafeez (448 runs in UAE), and Sohaib Maqsood, the team has a bankable top-order.

When bankability is the operating word, it would be remiss to not include Misbah — who has seven 50-plus scores in his last nine international innings — in the same sentence.

Fewer mistakes

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews, in an otherwise cliché-laden press conference, dwelt on “making fewer mistakes”.

Apparently, he hasn’t lost sight on the familiarity-factor that comes with playing an opponent this often.

He will need the senior group — Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, and Lasith Malinga — to provide covering fire for the side’s inexperienced hands, particularly the bowlers.

Kusal Perera’s rat-a-tat at the top, Dinesh Chandimal’s adroitness in the middle, and Thisara Perera’s finishing blitz could form a template for Sri Lanka in its build-up to the 50-over World Cup. If only Ajantha Mendis and Sachithra Senanayake can weave a labyrinthine web around the batsmen, Mathews will breathe a lot easily.

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), Umar Gul.

Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (capt), Dinesh Chandimal (vice-capt), Chathuranga de Silva, Mahela Jayawardene, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga, Ajantha Mendis, Kusal Perera, Thisara Perera, Dhammika Prasad, Ashan Priyanjan, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Sachithra Senanayake, Lahiru Thirimanne.

Play starts at 1.30 p.m. (IST).

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