Match Preview – Pakistan vs Sri Lanka, Asia Cup 2022, Final

Match Preview - Pakistan vs Sri Lanka, Asia Cup 2022, Final

Big picture

It is a tournament Pakistan love, and yet a tournament that hasn’t always loved them back. Pakistan’s curious lack of success over this competition’s four-decade history has always baffled and puzzled, given, if history is a guide, there are only three possible ultimate destinations for this trophy. For the first half of this tournament’s existence, India and Sri Lanka played musical chairs, the trophy changing hands between a stirring giants of world cricket and a rising force of Asian cricket. Pakistan, meanwhile, were kept out in the cold, only making one of the first six finals.

They won the Sharjah Cup, the Nehru Cup, even the World Cup in this time, but cricket’s biggest continental prize remained elusive. It wasn’t until 2000 that a Moin-Khan led Pakistan finally ensured Pakistan touched the one piece of silverware that had been denied them, but it took another 12 years before they touched again. It has been a further decade since, and while India and Sri Lanka have split a dozen of these between them, Pakistan cherish the memories of those two.

The tournament has evolved, this particular edition is in the T20 format, and we’ve been gifted a vintage Pakistan side: wild, feverish, unpredictable, but against all odds: still here. The manner of India’s crushing defeat of Afghanistan and Sri Lanka’s subsequent dismantling of Pakistan means those two Naseem Shah sixes really were the difference between qualification and elimination, and now, Babar Azam has the chance to achieve what only Moin Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq accomplished for this nation – official continental supremacy.

It’s not been a side that’s necessarily looked destined for glory this fortnight, beginning with a final-over defeat to arch-rivals India. But inflicting a loss on that same opponent a week later invigorated a flagging campaign, though stumbles against Afghanistan suggest a side with work to do. That might particularly be true with bat in hand, but for this young side, also when it comes to maintaining emotional control; there was evidence in that game against Afghanistan that nerves, and perhaps tempers, threatened to get the better of that at seminal moments.

Tempers are less likely to flare in the final, though. Each Asia Cup side has had a complicated relationship with the others, but with Pakistan and Sri Lanka perhaps the friendliest fixture of all. Across most of their history, these two nations have enjoyed immensely cordial relations with the other, and been there for each other in their toughest times, the sight of cheering Lahoris as Arjuna Ranatunga lifted the World Cup at the Gaddafi stadium one of cricket’s indelible images. That warmth has been evident on the field, and there is no reason that should change.

A Sri Lankan redemption arc, though, is perhaps a neater, easier graph to chart, though none the less dramatic for it. What right, really, do Sri Lanka have to be here, after being blown away by eight wickets and ten overs to spare in the tournament’s opening game by relative upstarts Afghanistan? Against Bangladesh, too, they looked done for in a steep chase until Kusal Mendis, Dasun Shanaka, and ample bullets fired directly by Bangladeshi hands into Bangladeshi feet saw them eke through to the second phase.

But ever since, their campaign has turned around. The batters, right through to the lower order, finds itself playing modern, aggressive, and above all entertaining cricket that has lit up this tournament, gaining them fans outside that little paradise of an island itself. Afghanistan were swiftly avenged, before a thrilling win in the game of the tournament against India effectively saw them through to the final. It was especially impressive because of how well this tournament’s official hosts held their nerve at the death, trumping an opposition that had beaten them in 14 of the last 17 T20Is.

The win against Pakistan perhaps means they go into the final as favourites, but of course, not mentioning the value of the toss would be irresponsible. Only three times has a team defended successfully – Hong Kong’s two opponents and India against Afghanistan – and while there have been plenty of close games to suggest it needn’t have been that way, the value of calling correctly cannot be overstated.

Form guide

Pakistan: LWWWL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka: WWWWL

In the spotlight

Whether you’re Team Total Attack or Team Platform Building, Pakistan’s T20 fortunes are tethered firmly to the kind of day Mohammad Rizwan is having. He might take his time and hold up an end, which gives the rest of the side something of a comfort blanket – that only becomes really apparent in how exposed the side feels when he falls early. Even better for Pakistan, he could find his timing from relatively early on and get Pakistan ticking early, off to a rapid – if not flying – start. A struggling Rizwan often means a struggling Pakistan, not just because his runs might be missed, but because Rizwan in the right mood manages to lift the spirit of the entire Pakistan side. He has become this T20I side’s heartbeat, as well as the bellwether of its performances.

Wanindu Hasaranga doesn’t mind playing against Pakistan. The 3-21 he managed in the dry run for the final wasn’t a one-off. Quite literally, in the sense he also registered those precise numbers in a T20I in Lahore that saw Sri Lanka clean sweep Pakistan 3-0. It was really that tour of Pakistan that kickstarted his career, one where he hasn’t looked back since. But Pakistan remain, statistically, his most favoured opponents, against whom he has bagged 11 wickets in four matches. These include a player of the series award as well as two player of the match performances. Add to that his ability to contribute runs down the order, and it becomes clear why his battle against Pakistan might be key to the destination of the Asia Cup.

Pitch and conditions

It will be hot and dry again, as it has been all fortnight.

Team news

After resting a few players for the group game against Sri Lanka, Pakistan should revert to the side that won three in a row prior to Friday’s defeat.

Pakistan (probable): 1 Babar Azam (capt) 2 Mohammad Rizwan (wk) 3 Fakhar Zaman 4 Iftikhar Ahmed 5 Khushdil Shah 6 Shadab Khan 7 Asif Ali 8 Mohammad Nawaz 9 Naseem Shah 10 Haris Rauf 11 Mohammad Hasnain.

Sri Lanka might deliberate over bringing Asitha Fernando back, but after that commanding bowling performance on Friday, an unchanged side is more likely.

Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Kusal Mendis (wk), 2 Pathum Nissanka, 3 Dhananjaya de Silva, 4 Danushka Gunathilaka, 5 Dasun Shanaka (capt,), 6 Bhanuka Rajapaksa, 7 Chamika Karunaratne, 8 Wanindu Hasaranga, 9 Maheesh Theekshana, 10 Pramod Madushan, 11 Dilshan Madushanka.

Stats and trivia

  • Haris Rauf is three wickets shy of 50 T20I wickets. He is currently tied With Shaheen Afridi on 47, having bowled in two fewer innings
  • This is the fourth time Sri Lanka and Pakistan are playing an Asia Cup final, with Sri Lanka winning two of the previous three
  • Quotes

    “When building a team, it is great for us that different players have stood up when it counts and helped the team win matches. As a captain this is important for me, and it helps pave the path for future success for the team as well.”Babar Azam relishes the all-round contributions from his side this competition

    “As a tournament looking back, this has been one of the best Asia Cups we have had, and we are looking forward to the final”
    Dasun Shanaka has his eyes are firmly on the prize ahead of Sunday’s showpiece final

    Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000

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