Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will add another chapter to their rivalry when they meet in the Asia Cup opener in Dubai on Saturday. One needs to look no further than the last time these two teams met, in the Nidahas Trophy, which was marred by a few incidents, to realise just how intense and fierce competition between the two sides has become. Which is why neither team will settle for anything less than a win, especially as Afghanistan, who have become increasingly competitive in limited-overs cricket, are themselves strong contenders to make the Super Four stage.
Sri Lanka have had the better of Bangladesh in 2018, beating them in a tri-nation ODI tournament final in January, and a Test and T20I series in February. But Bangladesh's twin victories over Sri Lanka, both in tight games, in the Nidahas Trophy, won't soon be forgotten. They tasted further success on tour in the West Indies, where all five core members of the team - Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan, Mashrafe Mortaza, Mahmudullah and Mushfiqur Rahim - fared quite well and Liton Das struck a splendid half-century in the deciding T20I in Florida. Mustafizur Rahman and Mehidy Hasan, two key components, have also shown good form with the ball, but then some of the younger batsmen have work to do.
Sri Lanka were hit slightly hard when they lost an ODI series to South Africa at home, after having crushed them in the Tests. Kusal Mendis and Upul Tharanga were especially disappointing making 86 and 93 runs in five matches respectively. That will be of some concern as Sri Lanka can ill-afford a weak top-order.
Akila Dananjaya is likely to miss the first two matches on account of the birth of his child. The 24-year old spinner tormented South Africa with a six-for in the fifth ODI and was the leading wicket-taker of the series with 14 scalps. Sri Lanka have already lost Dinesh Chandimal and Danushka Gunathilaka to injuries.
These absences may give Bangladesh a slight edge, but their batsmen still need to find a way through the middle overs, where Dilruwan Perera can be especially potent with his accurate offbreaks. But, as Tamim said two days before the match, the Dubai heat would make this a battle of will more than anything else.
Sri Lanka: WWLLL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Angelo Mathews looked in good form throughout the ODI series against South Africa last month, capping it off with a run-a-ball unbeaten 97 in a massive victory in the final ODI. In the absence of Dinesh Chandimal, Mathews needs to carry that form and step up with his experience to hold the middle order together.
Tamim Iqbal is Bangladesh's leading ODI batsman in 2018, averaging 89.83 for his 539 runs. He will have to do more of the same; without a stable opening partnership in a long time, Bangladesh rely heavily on Tamim for a sound start in ODIs.
Sri Lanka have Lasith Malinga back, and will likely be replacing Akila with Dilruwan Perera, who has had some success against Bangladesh in the recent past. Niroshan Dickwella and Shehan Jayasuriya are also on call.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 2 Upul Tharanga, 3 Kusal Perera, 4 Kusal Mendis, 5 Angelo Mathews (capt), 6 Dhananjaya de Silva, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Dasun Shanaka, 9 Dilruwan Perera, 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Lasith Malinga
Liton Das is likely to open with Tamim, while Ariful Haque and Mohammad Mithun are vying to replace Sabbir Rahman, who was dropped alongside Anamul Haque.
Bangladesh (probable): 1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Liton Das, 3 Shakib Al Hasan, 4 Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), 5 Mahmudullah, 6 Mosaddek Hossain, 7 Mohammad Mithun, 8 Mashrafe Mortaza (capt), 9 Mehidy Hasan Miraz, 10 Rubel Hossain, 11 Mustafizur Rahman
Pitch and conditions
Four out of the five ODIs played last year at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium were won by the side chasing. The only team to lose batting second was Sri Lanka. The temperature is expected to be in the mid-30s throughout the game.
Stats and Trivia
Bangladesh will be playing their first match in the UAE since April 8, 1995.
In the last 18 months, Sri Lanka have a 3-2 win-loss record against Bangladesh in ODIs.
The two Pereras are leading Sri Lanka's batting and bowling charts in 2018. Kusal is the leading run-scorer with 309 runs at an average of 38.62. Thisara has taken most wickets for Sri Lanka, with 18 scalps at 19.38.
"Every team should have one or two rivalries. I don't think neither of us have the Nidahas Trophy incident in mind, and regardless of the history, both sides know how important the September 15 game is, to kick off the tournament."