Pakistani captain Misbah-ul-Haq gestures during a practice session ahead of today’s final of the Asia Cup in Dhaka. RIGHT: Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi sports a pensive look during the same training session yesterday.
DHAKA: Rampaging Shahid Afridi and prolific Kumar Sangakkara have set the stage for a rousing contest when Pakistan face Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup one-day final in Dhaka today.
Angelo Mathews’ Sri Lanka have been the dominant team in the five-nation event with four straight victories in the league, including a 12-run win over Pakistan in the tournament opener on February 25.
The charge was led by Sangakkara, the 36-year-old left-hander who has been in prime form during his team’s current tour of Bangladesh which began with a bilateral series in January.
Sangakkara scored 75, 319 and 105 in two Test matches and 128 in the second one-day international to steer Sri Lanka to series wins in all three formats against the hosts.
The veteran has also played three match-winning innings in the Asia Cup, making 67 against Pakistan, 103 versus World Cup champions India and 76 against minnows Afghanistan.
He remains the leading scorer in the tournament with 248 runs despite falling cheaply for two in Thursday’s last league match against Bangladesh.
“It is great to have Sangakkara in such good form, but the others will also need to step up and rally around him if we are to win,” Mathews said. “Pakistan have shown how tough a side they are to beat. But we have our plans and are confident of doing well if we execute them well.”
Pakistan, the defending champions, bounced back after the loss against Sri Lanka to qualify for the final with three successive victories against Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh.
The mercurial Afridi fashioned two tense last-over wins, slamming an 18-ball 34 against India before making an astonishing 59 off 25 balls against Bangladesh. Short boundaries at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium where even mis-hits land over the fence appear tailor-made for Afridi, and skipper Misbah-ul-Haq hoped for another power-packed display in the final.
“Afridi is our main player,” a grateful Misbah said. “The kind of form he is in and the kind of confidence he shows, it’s good for the Pakistan team. We just tell him to make sure he bats for at least 25-30 balls. If he does that he can score a 50. I’m really happy with the way he’s playing.”
Pakistan Cricket Board official Zakir Khan said Afridi, Umar Gul, Sharjeel Khan and Ahmed Shehzad were suffering from injury niggles, but he expected them to be fit for the final.
“Afridi has a hip strain and the others have minor niggles, but all of them have responded well to rest and treatment and should be available to play tomorrow,” Khan said in Dhaka yesterday.
Both teams boast of destructive bowling attacks with Sri Lanka’s Ajantha Mendis the tournament’s joint leader with nine wickets and Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal in second place with eight.
Sling-arm fast bowler Lasith Malinga, who has taken six wickets, said Afridi’s explosive game-changing form did not worry him.
“I am more concerned about how I bowl,” Malinga said. “Afridi does not worry me and I don’t think they (Pakistan) are thinking too much about me either.”