The Asia Cup final will be contested Saturday, between two sides who fully deserve their place. Both teams have blitzed the competition and booked a spot before the round robin matches have come to an end. Pakistan faced Sri Lanka in the opening match of the tournament, where the favourites succumbed to a rampant Lasith Malinga. The Slinger had bowled seven overs for 41 runs, before being brought on for a last spell in 45th over of the Pakistani chase. He went on to take five wickets for eleven runs, finishing with figures of 5/52 and completely obliterating the Pakistan tail. Sri Lanka went on to win their next two matches, against India and Afghanistan, to book their place in the final. At the time of writing, they must still play Bangladesh in a meaningless round robin fixture. Pakistan beat all of the above sides themselves, setting up a fierce contest in Dhaka.
To Win (90mins)
Sri Lanka 9/10
Luckily for Pakistan, runs have not been much of a problem in this tournament. Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal in particular, have been full of them. The former averages 55.00 in his four innings in the tournament so far, and comes into this encounter on the back of a century against Bangladesh in a mammoth chase. The latter has the inflated average of 97.00 due to a hundred without being dismissed against Afghanistan, but was a thorn in the side of the Sri Lankans in the opening encounter, scoring 74. Captain Misbah-ul-Haq made runs in that match as well, and Mohammad Hafeez’s 75 against India saw Pakistan to victory. They will be hoping to form a few partnerships between these players, as they don’t always seem to perform as a unit. Saeed Ajmal, as expected in Asia, has been reliably magical and averages a solid 22.00 with the ball so far. He is third on the wicket-takers list with eight, but has not had much else in the attack to follow up on his performances. He was knocked around at five-an-over and only took one wicket against the Sri Lankans; his performance is usually the catalyst for victory or defeat for Pakistan.
Sri Lanka’s dominance in the tournament has been a direct result of the form of Kumar Sangakkara. Three half-centuries in a row, one of those a century against India in a victorious chase, has propelled him to the top of the list of tournament run-scorers. He averages 82.00, with 246 runs in three innings. He scored 67 against Pakistan, but it was 102 from Thirimanne that was the stand-out innings in that match. Otherwise, Kusal Perera contributed one score at the top of the order and Angelo Mathews is looking every bit the gritty captain in the middle-order. The bowling attack relies heavily on the death bowling exploits of Lasith Malinga, and aside from his devastating spell against Pakistan, has been strangely quiet. Granted, he was only given five overs against Afghanistan, after which victory was assured, but he was expensive and only claimed one scalp against India. Ajantha Mendis has been effective, picking up seven wickets in his two matches, and looks likely to take the field in the final.
Aside from a run-fest between Bangladesh and Pakistan, where 655 runs were scored on the day, the strip at Dhaka has produced more middling totals. Free stroke play has generally proved difficult, where 250 was around par score. However, if the pitch is producing more runs, the match between Afghanistan and India, the former 159 all out in the first innings, is not the best match to judge. There is no rain predicted for Saturday.
VALUE BET: Top Sri Lankan Batsman, Angelo Mathews 9/1
There’s no doubt it’s a risky bet, and Sri Lanka will probably need more runs at the top of the order if they are to win the match, but the Sri Lankan captain has provided a stern resistance in the middle-order. He averages 180.00 in the tournament principally because he has only been dismissed once, against India, for six. Scores of 55, 45 and 74, all not out, shows the form that he is in. You can almost bank on him being there at the end, so at 9/1, it’s worth a small bet.
VERDICT: Sri Lanka 9/10
Sri Lanka have been steadily racking up ODI wins of late, and have looked a dogged unit that never gives up when the going gets tough. Of course, there’s always a risk backing a team on such a good streak and one feels that they have to slip up at some point. However, I feel the time is finally ripe for Sri Lanka to put their tournament final woes behind them. Back them to take home the trophy.