Mirpur: On current form, Thursday's fixture in Mirpur between Sri Lanka and Pakistan holds promise for a keenly contested match. Both sides play an exciting brand of cricket, have batsmen with equal dollops of flair and solidity, and bowlers capable of winning matches on their own.
However, it is Pakistan who will be a bit more confident of victory, and not just because they beat Bangladesh on Sunday. Pakistan have come up on top in the last three matches played against Sri Lanka - in fact they have won seven of nine matches going back to August 2009 - and that will give them confidence of pulling one more over the opposition. But that is not to say they don't have worries.
Pakistan under-performed with the bat in the tournament opener, but rallied with the ball and - with some help from Bangladesh's batsmen - won the match by 21 runs. Their batting was problematic. After a 135-run opening stand, the next five batsmen contributed 45 runs and Pakistan needed Umar Gul's 39 from 25 balls to get them past 250 when once they looked on course for 300. Against a stronger bowling attack they cannot expect to get away with such sloppy batting. The veterans Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq need to be counted for as well.
With the ball, Gul remains the spearhead in conditions where reverse-swing can be attained with the semi-old ball. That, allied with the presence of Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal, poses a big threat to a Sri Lankan side that struggled to cope with the likes of Irfan Pathan and Vinay Kumar in the latter half of their chase on Tuesday.
Sri Lanka, after a fine run in the recent CB Series, were also decidedly average with the bat against India on Tuesday despite having a batting line-up that extended to No. 9. Fifties to Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara aside, there was little oomph in the batting order and that was the deciding factor in a 50-run defeat. The shot selection was questionable, with Jayawardene admitting his attempted dab to third man, with Sri Lanka 124 for 1 in the 19th over, opened the gates for a collapse. Sri Lanka's fielding too was lacklustre; there were two dropped catches and several run-out chances missed. The bowling also failed to put a check on the flow of runs in the death overs, where MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina looted 78 runs in 43 balls.
Pakistan are unlikely to tinker with their XI for this match. These are the players who have scripted plenty of success over the past year and there really is no need to shake things up. But getting runs from Umar Akmal (who has one fifty in his last five innings), Asad Shafiq (one fifty in seven innings) and Afridi is necessary.
As for Sri Lanka, the news that their allrounder and vice-captain Angelo Mathews has been ruled out of the Asia Cup is a big blow. Mathews' calf injury has cut short his tournament before it could even begin, and with the absence of Thissara Perera the Sri Lankans are struggling to find a capable player in the middle order as well as a bowler.
This means that Chamara Kapugedera, despite a first-ball duck against India, should play. The team will also wait eagerly to see if Lasith Malinga is fit to play. If Malinga he is, Suranga Lakmal will likely sit out.
Sri Lanka: 1 Mahela Jayawardene (captain), 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Dinesh Chandimal, 5 Lahiru Thirimanne, 6 Upul Tharanga, 7 Chamara Kapugedera, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Farveez Maharoof, 10 Seekkuge Prasanna, 11 Suranga Lakmal/Lasith Malinga.
Pakistan: 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Nasir Jamshed, 3 Younis Khan, 4 Umar Akmal, 5 Asad Shafiq, 6 Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 9 Umar Gul, 10 Saaed Ajmal, 11 Aizaz Cheema.