Pakistan and Sri Lanka will cross swords once more when they open the 2014 Asia Cup, an ODI tournament which, unsurprisingly, consists of five Asian teams (Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan).
These two evenly matched teams contested a Test, ODI and Twenty20 series at the turn of the year and will hope to get off to a flyer in the first round-robin group stage match of this Bangladesh-based event.
Venue: Fatullah Osmani Stadium, Narayanganj, Bangladesh
Date: Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014
Start time: 2 p.m. local time, 8 a.m. GMT
Weather: Sunshine and a maximum temperature of 87 degrees Fahrenheit is predicted by weatherchannel.com.
TV Info: Star UK
In the Angelo Mathews era, Sri Lanka continue to gather strength with their newfound unity, producing a series of relatively consistent performances culminating in the recent ODI whitewash against Bangladesh.
Mahela Jayawardene missed that three-game series but returns for this tournament and will strengthen the middle order while Kusal Perera's claims to replace Sanath Jayasuriya at the top of the order continue to grow.
With the ball, the loss of Rangana Herath could be costly, but as evidenced by eight different players taking wickets against the Tigers, there are plenty of options in this department.
Similarly, Pakistan are in decent form. As well as ousting the Sri Lankans in their January ODI series, they beat South Africa in South Africa. But Misbah-ul-Haq was coy about their overall chances, according to espncricinfo:
All teams have ability to win against any side. It will be good competition. Last Asia Cup was witness of that. Bangladesh beat two big teams, they came close to us. You can expect any team can win against any team.
It tends to be the old guards, such as Misbah himself or Mohammad Hafeez, who are the most reliable batsmen although Ahmed Shehzad has started to contribute more regularly.
And when Saeed Ajmal, arguably the best spinner in the world, leads your bowling attack, you have a chance of winning any game.
In December, these side's contested a five-match series, which was a close affair with home side Pakistan (albeit, playing in the UAE), edging some close tussles to claim a 302 win.
Form (latest left-to-right)
Sri Lanka: WWWWLLWL
Giant fast-bowler Mohammad Irfan misses out for Pakistan after a recurrence of a hip injury. Also, Fawad Alam returns to the squad after a two-year absence.
Pakistan (from): Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Mohammad Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad, Sharjeel Khan, Shahid Afridi, Umar Akmal, Sohaib Maqsood, Fawad Alam, Saeed Ajmal, Abdul Rehman, Junaid Khan, Umar Gul, Anwar Ali, Bilawal Bhatti, Mohammad Talha.
The dual absence of Tillakaratne Dilshan (finger injury) and Nuwan Kulasekara (groin injury) are blows for Sri Lanka and will be replaced by Dhammika Prasad and Lahiru Thirimanne. Rangana Herath also is on the sick bed.
Sri Lanka (from): Angelo Mathews (captain), Dinesh Chandimal, Kusal Perera, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Lahiru Thirimanne, Ashan Priyanjan, Thisara Perera, Lasith Malinga, Suranga Lakmal, Sachithra Senanayake, Ajantha Mendis, Chathuranga De Silva, Dhammika Prasad
Players to watch
Junaid Khan remains the real deal in terms of Pakistan's next pace bowling here and will have additional responsibility with Irfan absent. However, so far, the left-armer has relished the challenge to take 73 wickets at an average of 22.28, and his probing off-stump line could be a test of patience for the Sri Lankan strokemakers.
It is obvious that Kusal Perera's hero is Sanath Jayasuriya from his similar batting style and aggressiveness. Although the left-handed opener made a mixed start to his international career, he has shown signs of pushing on as of late. A maiden century against Bangladesh increased his average to over 27, and this tournament provides an ideal platform for the 23-year-old to firmly establish himself at the highest level.
Too close to call with any certainty, given that the sides are so tightly matched with a similar array of experience, youthful talent, high-quality spinners and belligerent hitters. But with Pakistan edging their last meeting, I'll go for Angelo Matthew's men this time around.
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