All-rounder Sahan Arachchige in squad for injured Maheesh Theekshana; Washington Sundar for unfit Axar Patel
By Srian Obeyesekere
Defending champions Sri Lanka’s hopes of laying hands on the pot of gold for a second successive year in quest of Asia’s cricketing supremacy will necessarily hinge on the hosts batting mechanism meeting the ultimate test of reigning over India’s well-oiled bowling ammunition that was the negating factor in the Super Four 41-run loss from an impregnable position of having looked at a gettable 215 target when the two finalists face off to a feverishly heightened capacity local-Indian crowd in Sunday’s Day-Night final at the R. Premadasa International Cricket Stadium. Of course, the continuing weather pattern that has bugged the tournament could be a spoiler with a 90 percent rain forecast.
That the Lankans flopped against India’s pace-spin combination of Jasprit Bumrah and Kuldip Yadav in that failure of the achievable despite letting slip the early stranglehold having had India on the back foot at 5 for 73 after 19.2 overs on Dunith Wellalage’s 4-wicket top order wrenching out will in effect be the trophy glitter reality herculean wakeup call the frontline batsmen face to going past Rohit Sharma’s high riders on the back of strolling to the finals with a Super Four game to go downing Sri Lanka and Pakistan in the Super Fours. That is notwithstanding the fact of a 6-run blemish to Bangladesh by a not at full strength India on Friday minus the rested super batsman Virat Kohli and frontline bowlers Jasprit Bumrah and Kuldap Yadav.
Sri Lanka will carry the hurrah buoyance against Pakistan on the backs of the top order of Kusal Mendis, Sadeera Samarawickrama and Charith Asalanka delivering in knocking out the formidable opposition that revolved around a 252-run shoot out that went down to a last ball outcome in the 42-over rain reduced contest. It was in spite of the vagaries of poor running between the wickets costing the upfront wicket of a back in business fired up Kusal Janith Perera flurry of boundaries, and the continued failure with the bat of skipper Dasun Shanaka that will be home work concerns to the Lankan camp to optimizing its batting to winning heights. The outcome has blown much looked hopes of an India-Asia Cup final that has never been in the tournament history.
Mendis could well make the difference if he plays to his true potential. Having began his career in the blaze of a home test series winning 194 against Australia in 2017, but suffered a decline on the way has conspicuously, the wicket-keeper batsman has raised his game in recent times touching 91 against Pakistan, 92 versus Afghanistan and 51 against Bangladesh in completing 3,000 ODI runs which he reached in the game against Afghanistan.
Both sides carry injury constraints with Sri Lanka’s key off spinner Maheesh Theekshana ruled out by a hamstring injury being replaced in the squad by all-rounder Sahan Arachchige who could well prop up the batting as well as a composed left-hander if he gets the nod.
India are likely to bring in Washington Sundar in place of the injured Axar Patel.
Indeed, the pre-match hype to the big showdown in a huge spectator’s expectancy of both cricket crazy home fans, and Indian fans known to traverse by the numbers wherever their heroes perform, who have jetted down to catching the action has certainly drummed up up the 16th edition of the Asia Cup into a much looked to showpiece extravaganza as to the ultimate winners of the INR 1,700,00,000 (USD 200,000) and trophy glitter. The runners-up will receive prize money of $200k. The champions of the previous edition of the tournament received USD$5 million, the runners-up received USD$3 million, and the losing semi-finalists received USD$1 million. All 24 participating teams also received USD$200,0004. In the final analysis, Dasun Shanaka’s charges do face going past an iceberg challenge in the Indians going by Sharma’s men’s dictates to sweeping to the finals with the Lankan skipper facing the form bug battle to justifying the king-sized status thrust in him by the national selectors to leading the side.
The Indians for all their success in getting there by whirlwind centuries by Virat Kohli and K.L. Rahul, will face the debilitating top order dismantling of super batsman Kohli, Subnam Gill and Rahul by young Lankan spin prodigy Dunith Wellalage whose 5-wicket take thrust the 20-year old to overnight international stardom when the two sides clash in the big one. The final is vital to India to put behind a 5-year hiatus of having not won a multi-nation trophy since 2018. The last ICC tournament they won was the Champions Trophy in 2013 under M.S. Dhoni and their last multi-nation tournament was in the Nidahas Trophy in 2018.
For both sides, the winning insulating factor will also be as significant with India seeking to further stretching a record 7 wins as the tournament leader having stopped the Lankans from further extending a record 13 ODI wins on the trot. Sri Lanka quests for a seventh win to drawing level with India having reached the final for a record twelfth time while India have reached their eleventh Asia Cup final. India has won six ODIs to Sri Lanka’s five. Both teams have won once each in the T20 format. It will be the eighth Asia Cup final clash between the two sides and their 167th ODI clash and the 38th meeting between both sides at Colombo’s Premadasa Stadium where the hosts have a decent record.