Pakistan thrill against Sri Lanka efficiency
Match factsMarch 8, 2014
Start time 14.00 local (0800 GMT)
Big PictureAfter his team had narrowly beaten India, Angelo Mathews said Sri Lanka "do those little things right". In a tournament full of rash shots and missed opportunities on the field, Sri Lanka have committed fewer basic errors than all the other sides. It goes quite a way towards explaining their unbeaten record in the tournament so far.
Pakistan, on the other hand, threw away a winning position against Sri Lanka. They were 117 for 6 against Afghanistan thanks to the shot selection of their top order. Misbah-ul-Haq has twice been run out in comical fashion. Against Bangladesh, Abdur Rehman was barred from bowling when he had figures of 0-0-8-0. And yet, despite all that, Pakistan may well start the final as favourites.
After meeting each other in the opening game of the tournament, the two sides have taken divergent paths to the final. Sri Lanka, to put it a touch simplistically, have gone quietly about their business. Pakistan, on the other hand, have built up the sort of momentum that comes with winning thrilling matches. When you beat India by one wicket and chase 327 in your next game, you tend to believe you can win from any position.
Pakistan's batsmen, after an uncertain start to the tournament, have also found form. There's Shahid Afridi, of course, but there's also Mohammad Hafeez, who has scored half-centuries in his last two games, Ahmed Shehzad, who made a century against Bangladesh, and Fawad Alam, whose return to the side suddenly gave Pakistan someone who could hold their middle order together. It's almost a good thing for Pakistan, perversely, that Misbah, the man who usually does that job for them, has scored 0, 1 and 4 in the matches they have won.
Pakistan, though, have two major concerns going into the final. One is the form of their fast bowlers. Junaid Khan, Umar Gul and Mohammad Talha - their likely first-choice combination - have all been expensive, giving away close to or over run-a-ball. The second is the fitness of four of their players. Shehzad, Sharjeel Khan, Afridi and Gul have niggles of various kinds.
Of the four, Afridi, who picked up a hip injury in the game against Bangladesh, looked most in doubt, and showed signs of discomfort during Pakistan's training session on Friday. But their manager, Zakir Khan, said he was responding well to the physio's ministrations, and it seemed as if Pakistan wouldn't leave him out unless it became absolutely unavoidable.
Sri Lanka, for their part, haven't completely convinced as a batting unit. Kumar Sangakkara, Angelo Mathews and Lahiru Thirimanne have scored runs, but the rest of the top six have been patchy. Kusal Perera has tended to throw away starts, while Dinesh Chandimal and Mahela Jayawardene have looked out of form. Sri Lanka bat deep, though, and match-turning contributions in a final are as likely to come from a Chaturanga de Silva or a Thisara Perera as they are to come from a top-order batsman.
The pitches in Mirpur have been a little unpredictable, with one side of the square tending to produce uneven bounce and another throwing up good batting conditions. Spinners have played a massive role regardless of which pitch is used, though, and the most important mini-contest in the match could be the one between the two slow-bowling attacks.
In Ajantha Mendis, de Silva and Sachithra Senanayake, Sri Lanka have one potential match-winner and two capable ODI bowlers. Pakistan's spin attack, with Saeed Ajmal, Hafeez and Afridi seems to hold a slight edge, especially in terms of the experience they have bowling as a unit.
Form guideSri Lanka WWWWW (completed matches, most recent first)
Watch out forLahiru Thirimanne struck an accomplished century against Pakistan in the opening game of the tournament, and has continued to look good at the crease without making any other big scores. Batting up the order seems to suit his game, and a good innings in the final could win him a longer run as an opener even after Tillakaratne Dilshan returns to the side.
Mohammad Hafeez scored three centuries against Sri Lanka during the recent ODI series in the UAE, and has shown glimpses of that form in the Asia Cup. His bowling has been crucial as well, and he's done a useful job with the new ball. He'll probably do that in the final too, considering the number of left-hand batsmen in Sri Lanka's top order.
Team newsAshan Priyanjan took two wickets with his offspin against Bangladesh and timed the ball sweetly during his brief stay in the middle. But he was in the side only because Sri Lanka had already qualified for the final, and he will most likely make way for Chandimal. Lasith Malinga should also regain his place, but it's hard to predict who they'll leave out in his place.
Sri Lanka (likely): 1 Kusal Perera, 2 Lahiru Thirimanne, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Dinesh Chandimal, 6 Angelo Mathews (capt), 7 Chaturanga de Silva, 8 Thisara Perera, 9 Sachithra Senanayake/Suranga Lakmal, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Ajantha Mendis
Pakistan have a few fitness worries, with Afridi (hip), Shehzad (shoulder), Sharjeel (knee) and Gul (general soreness) at less than 100 per cent. None of the injuries are particularly serious, though, judging by the comments of their manager on the eve of the match, so they should be able to field their first-choice XI.
Pakistan (likely): 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Mohammad Hafeez, 3 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 4 Sohaib Maqsood, 5 Fawad Alam, 6 Umar Akmal (wk), 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Umar Gul, 9 Saeed Ajmal, 10 Mohammad Talha, 11 Junaid Khan
Stats and trivia
Quotes"I don't know, honestly. One day it looks like 200 is difficult, the next day on the same pitch you chase down 300-plus."
Misbah-ul-Haq on the vagaries of the Mirpur pitch
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo