Asia Cup 2014: Last-Minute Preview for Saturday's Final

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Asia Cup 2014: Last-Minute Preview for Saturday's Final
A.M. Ahad/Associated Press

Only hours remain before Sri Lanka and Pakistan meet up for the final of the 2014 Asia Cup.

These two countries are among the most successful in the competition's history.

Pakistan entered as the defending champions, beating Bangladesh in the final. It was the second time the Pakistanis had won, the other being 2000.

Sri Lanka have four titles to their name, the last coming in 2008 after they repeated as champions.

Although Saturday's final will have a hard time recreating the drama of Pakistan's two-run win in 2012, it should be a hotly contested affair.

 

When: Saturday, March 8, at 8 a.m. GMT; 2 p.m. BST

Where: Shere Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Watch: Star Life OK (Sky Channel 783, UK)

 

Coming in, Sri Lanka will be considered by many to be the favorites. They were a perfect 4-0 in the preliminary matches, with Pakistan right behind at 3-1. The lone loss came to Sri Lanka by 12 runs in the first match of the tournament back on Feb. 25.

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Lahiru Thirimanne was the standout performer, scoring 102 runs on 110 balls. Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene both have hat strike rates above 100 percent, which also helped Sri Lanka pick up the victory.

The story of the match, though, was each country's inability to pull away after building a lead.

Sri Lanka tailed off after Thirimanne's century. Then Pakistan grabbed the lead on the backs of Misbah-ul-Haq and Umar Akmal, who combined for 147 runs. The Pakistanis looked like they'd hold on for the victory, only to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

No batsman will be more important than Angelo Mathews. The captain doesn't light up the stat sheet, but his bowling late into the match has turned him into a great finisher, per OptaJim:

You certainly saw enough vulnerability in Sri Lanka's earlier win over Pakistan to make you think they could be in danger on Saturday, though.

Working in their favor, though, is that Pakistan are getting hammered with injuries at the moment.

Manager Zakir Khan confirmed that both Shahid Afridi and Ahmed Shehzad are dealing with issues, per ESPN Cricinfo. Afridi has a grade 1 hip-flexor strain, while Shehzad is battling a shoulder injury.

Regarding Afridi, Khan said:

Hopefully tomorrow, before the start of the match we will know the complete situation about Afridi. He has responded well to the treatment. We are all analysing and assessing his situation. Tomorrow we will take the final decision about Afridi.

Sharjeel Khan was also limited by a knee injury, but the manager revealed that the batsman is "nearly 98 percent fit."

With so much on the line, you should expect all of these players to play on Saturday. Whether they'll all be 100 percent is a different issue. In the event that Afridi is off his game, Pakistan will be in trouble. He's such a pivotal piece that his bad performance would drag the entire team down.

A.M. Ahad/Associated Press

If he does struggle, it won't be for a lack of confidence. Ahead of the final, he said he doesn't even need a coach at this point in his career, per ESPN Cricinfo:

The support team that we have now are all knowledgeable and keep you positive. As I've said earlier also, having played at this level for so many years, I don't need a coach. I am better off coaching myself. I know very well what to do and what not to do. It's about having the right people to back you and support you.

It's that kind of confidence, though, that will serve Pakistan so well in this match. There won't be any intimidation factor involved when they take on Sri Lanka. They know full well that they can prevail.

However, they may need some help from Sri Lanka to make that happen.

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