Whenever Sri Lanka and Pakistan face-off in a tournament final, it is always a highly interesting scenario considering the variety that the two sides offer. Sri Lanka are a side that thrives on momentum, and this series has been no different for them. Having come from behind, they went on to beat Pakistan in the opener, pulled off a close win against India, and had it rather easy against Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Thus, they would be going into the final having not lost a single match. History has proved that it isn’t the ideal scenario, but Lanka would be confident nevertheless.
In stark contrast, Pakistan begin their Asia Cup defence by giving away yet another match they should have won, against Sri Lanka, courtesy their mandatory batting collapse. Against India, they were up and down, but pulled away at the end courtesy some charismatic performances. Even against Bangladesh, they seemed set to face the embarrassment of a shock loss, before the lower order pulled them out of trouble and took them to a win, and a place in the final. It was only against Afghanistan that they really looked in command as a superior side.
Considering the consistency of the Lankans, they would begin as slight favourites to win the Asia Cup. Some of their batsmen have been in solid form, Kumar Sangakkara in particular, who has played a key role in Sri Lanka making it to the summit clash without many hitches. He would be keen for another big effort in the final as well. Lahiru Thirimanne has looked extremely competent at the top of the order. His hundred in the opener against Pakistan set up things for Lanka. Skipper Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga have put their hands and delivered whenever the situation demanded.
There are some issues for Lanka however. Three of their batsmen – Kushal Perera, Dinesh Chandimal and veteran Mahela Jayawardene haven’t been among the runs. They might be needed to deliver if the in-form batsmen fail. Further, the lower order hasn’t been tested a lot courtesy Sangakkara’s smashing form. The likes of Chaturanga de Silva and Thisara Perera thus need to be on guard in case a tough situation arises. All in all though, Sri Lanka will go in knowing that they have done most things right so far.
Pakistan would be hoping that they put their best forward. Mohammed Hafeez has finally hit a good run of form, and his experience at the top would be crucial. Umar Akmal has shown amazing consistency with the bat while Fawad Alam displayed a lot of maturity in the tense chase against Bangladesh. Above all though, the series so far for Pakistan has been about Shahid Afridi, who has pulled him team into the final with two smashing knocks. Can be repeat the dose in the final? There are injury worries for Pakistan and their pace bowler has also been erratic, but in Pakistan’s case, all that matters is how many things they get right out in the middle.
--By A Cricket Analyst