High hopes for underdogs Sri Lanka in Asia Cup final

Sri Lankan wicketkeeper Kusal Mendis (left) breaks the wicket to clear Pakistan’s Mohammad Nawaz during the Asian Cup Twenty20 International Cricket Super Four match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at the International Cricket Stadium in Dubai on September 9, 2022. – AFP

DUBAI; Sri Lanka are poised for an unlikely Asian Cup win over favorites Pakistan in Sunday’s final after a tournament-long losing streak despite struggling at home.

The island nation had to abandon plans to host the Twenty20 competition due to political unrest and stumbled in their opener against Afghanistan by eight wickets, with nearly 10 overs remaining.

But the five-time champions bounced back to beat Bangladesh, Afghanistan and tournament favorites India, scuttling a much-anticipated final between Rohit Sharma’s men and arch-rivals Pakistan.

Friday’s closing Super Four game was a dress rehearsal for the Dubai final – and Sri Lanka’s fourth successive victory, although Pakistan are missing two of their key players.

On Sunday they will depend on the spin pairing of Wanindu Hasaranga and Maheesh Theekshana, who helped beat Pakistan for 121 on Friday in a comfortable five-wicket win.

Fly-half Pathum Nissanka led the batting charge with an unbeaten 55 in a clinical show, but skipper Dasun Shanaka warned his team of complacency.

“The confidence we have is huge after four straight wins, but we still don’t take Pakistan lightly in the final,” Shanaka told reporters.

“We know they’re a very good team and enough good players to come back strong and we should be ready for that.”

Sri Lanka performed well in their recent two-Test home series against Pakistan, played in Galle amid a punishing economic crisis and political unrest.

Shanaka said his team had been bombarded with “messages of love and support” and their Asian Cup success had brought joy after miserable months of blackouts, fuel shortages and protests.

“It’s so good that we win and give something back to them,” he said.

Confidence and passion

Pakistan is facing its own problems at home with monsoon floods that have inundated a third of the country.

But the team shone throughout the tournament, a curtain raiser for next month’s T20 World Cup in Australia, avenging an opening game loss to India and picking up a final thriller against Afghanistan.

Fast thrower Naseem Shah and versatile Shadab Khan both missed Friday’s showdown but will extend Sri Lanka’s chances when they return for the final.

Naseem, 19, kept the edge on Pakistan’s bowling attack in the absence of pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi, who missed the tournament through injury.

He also hit two sixes in a dramatic one-wicket win over Afghanistan to seal India’s exit.

Pakistan captain Babar Azam (L) and his teammate Fakhar Zaman run during the Asian Cup Twenty20 International Cricket Super Four match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at Dubai International Cricket Stadium on September 9, 2022. — AFP

The batsman remains a concern, with skipper Babar Azam managing a tournament record of just 30. Mohammad Rizwan is the only regular player with 226 runs in five matches.

But coach Saqlain Mushtaq said he had complete faith in his team to deliver despite Azam’s “unlucky” run.

“The last game we won against India, we chased and hit well,” he said.

“Things are moving in the right direction and we are confident.”

Pakistan’s latest loss to Sri Lanka may have dampened their momentum, but Saqlain said the team will take lessons from Friday’s game into consideration.

“I will talk about mistakes in the dressing room, but Sri Lanka will gain confidence in the final and Pakistan will learn and be passionate,” said Saqlain.


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