Sri Lanka and India to go all out in today’s final
After a rollercoaster group stage, we are left with two giant teams fighting for the Asia Cup title. Three weeks of action delivered on everything desired in a tournament–the heart-stoppers, heartbreaks, washouts and thrashings, before Sri Lanka and India broke through. India’s presence in the final may have been anticipated but as for Sri Lanka, not so much. When the tournament kicked off three weeks ago, the expectations were of an India-Pakistan battle.
After all, this is the broadcasters’ dream–to cash in on the great rivalry between the two Asian neighbours in a tournament final. But Sri Lanka, who co-hosted the tournament with Pakistan, pipped them by the thinnest of margins in a virtual semi-final on Thursday to reach their second successive final.
After Pakistan had set a target of 252, there was little likelihood that Dasun Shanaka’s men would chase the target in 42 overs, but the Lankans put on a scintillating batting effort to send the Pakistanis packing. The partisan R. Premadasa crowd was rapturous.
Sri Lanka’s Super Four entry was courtesy of a dramatic win against Afghanistan in their last first-round game played in Lahore. Afghanistan, who needed to chase Sri Lanka’s 291 in 37.1 overs, nearly crashed Sri Lanka out of the tournament by reaching 289. Since then, the co-hosts have kept the momentum despite losing to India in the Super Fours.
Sri Lankans can be greatly proud of their journey so far and a win here would be the icing on the cake after a spirited campaign where injuries kept the first choice bowling attack out.
Dushmantha Chameera, Wanindu Hasaranga, Lahiru Kumara and Dilshan Madushanka were sidelined by injuries but the young brigade, particularly Matheesha Pathirana and Dunith Wellalage, performed at crucial junctures.
Pathirana leads the bowling charts with 11 wickets, followed by Wellalage with 10 wickets. Kusal Mendis, Sadeera Samarawickrema and Charith Asalanka have stood out with the bat for Sri Lanka, although seniors like skipper Dasun Shanaka and Dimuth Karunaratne have struggled with form.
“We came without our key players, but still we managed to make the finals,” skipper Shanaka said.
“The boys wanted to deliver for the country.”
However ahead of the final, Sri Lanka suffered a major blow with an injury to Maheesh Theekshana, a key weapon in Sri Lanka’s bowling attack. He has been ruled out from the finals after he sustained a Grade 3 hamstring injury during Sri Lanka’s heart-stopping win over Pakistan on Thursday. He has been replaced by batter Sahan Arachchige.
This means leg-spinner Dushan Hemantha, who has so far played the role of the 12th man in the Asia Cup, is likely to make it into the playing XI.
Right-arm-seamer Pramod Madushan might get selected ahead of Kasun Rajitha, who has conceded 167 runs off 28 overs claiming only four wickets in four matches. He was replaced by Madushan in the last group game, in one of the two changes Sri Lanka made for the match against Pakistan.
Opener Dimuth Karunaratne has had an indifferent tournament. Brought into white-ball cricket, the Test skipper played a key role in Sri Lanka winning the World Cup qualifier and securing Sri Lanka’s World Cup spot but his form at the Asia Cup forced team’s think-tank to bring in Kusal Janith Perera at the top of the order.
India arrived here with confidence spilling over and their key weapons firing from all cylinders. With the World Cup in mind, the seven-time champions of the regional title dominated the tournament despite conceding a 6-run defeat to Bangladesh in their last Super Four game on Friday. Shubman Gill hit 121, taking India closer, but fell short of keeping their unbeaten run intact. The defeat had no bearing on India’s spot in the final, nor did it harm the team’s confidence greatly as they used the opportunity to test their bench strength.
India has one injury concern going into today’s final and expects to go full strength to assert their dominance. However, they have linked up Washington Sundar with India’s Asia Cup squad in Colombo as cover for Axar Patel, who has a swelling on his forearm after receiving a blow from a throw in Friday’s Super Four fixture against Bangladesh. Shubman Gill, skipper Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, and Virat Kholi are all among runs and Sri Lanka may hope that young Wellalage could spin a web around these batters as he did in the previous outing to leave Sri Lanka with a chance to defend the title.
“Winning the [Asia Cup] final is very important for us because we need to create a winning habit. Peaking at the right time and gaining momentum at the right time is important”, said India batter Shubman Gill after Friday’s Super Four game against Bangladesh.
Despite the loss on Friday, India is embracing the ‘favourite’ tag while Sri Lanka remains the ‘underdog’ going into today’s match. Whatever the results, this offers both sides the best opportunity to build their momentum leading into the next month’s World Cup to be held in India. Sri Lanka and India last met in 2010 in the Asia Cup final and India won the contest by 81 runs.
|Sri Lanka XI: Dasun Shanaka (Capt), Pathum Nissanka, Kusal Janith Perera, Kusal Mendis, Charith Asalanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Dasun Shanaka, Dunith Wellalage, Dushan Hemanatha, Pramod Madushan/Kasun Rajitha, Matheesha Pathiarana |
India XI: Rohit Sharma (Capt), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Ishan Kishan, KL Rahul, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Washington Sundar/Shardul Thakur, Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Siraj