The opening match of the 12th Asia Cup features two teams which are the new ‘familiar foes’ of international cricket.
Across formats, over the past three months, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have played against each other in 10 matches (5 ODIs, 2 T20Is and 3 Tests) and their recent record suggests no clear favourite. The T20 games were tied at 1-1, the Test series ended with a similar scoreline.
Only in the ODIs did Pakistan gain an insurmountable 3-1 lead in Dubai, before Sri Lanka took a consolation win. Yet what this scoreline does not tell you is that these two teams have been rather evenly matched.
A common factor in these contests has been the venue — all the matches have been played in the Gulf — which now changes to the Fatullah Cricket Stadium, about 37 kilometres from Dhaka. A different setting, though conditions are expected to be similar, will help break the monotony of the contests.
An unusual number of matches between two particular teams can lead to fatigue among the fans and spectators. The India and Sri Lanka cricket boards indulged in some overkill when the two teams played each other a dozen times each in 2008 and 2009 and this figure is only the number of ODIs. Lanka and Pakistan are in danger of going down that road.
Plenty at stake
Renewed interest could develop among fans from either side because there is more at stake here than bragging rights of a bilateral series win. Pakistan are defending champions of the Asia Cup while Sri Lanka have won the tournament on four occasions, second only to India with five titles.
On paper both sides have reason to believe they are better than their opponents but a Sri Lanka win, considering Pakistan’s status in the tournament, will be termed as an upset.
Pakistan have reason to believe they can beat Sri Lanka. They have found a settled opening pair in Sharjeel Khan and Ahmed Shehzad, after struggling to find one since the departure of Nasir Jamshed.
All-rounder Mohammad Hafeez has been outstanding since his return to the limited-overs format. His 449 runs at 149.33 in the series at UAE proves that he likes to bat against the Sri Lankans. They have an in-form skipper in Misbah-ul-Haq. Misbah-ul-Haq has scored seven half-centuries in his last nine innings. His form and seniority means he can command respect — vital in a team famous for their cliques.
The Pakistan bowling attack has been their strength over the years and continues to be so. Twenty-two-year-old medium pacer Bilawal Bhatti has shown promise while Junaid Khan has fulfilled his to continued…