The curse of the Asia Cup has persisted. It’s not going to be India versus Pakistan, in sync with the tournament’s 39-year history.
Nevertheless, with the World Cup less than three weeks away, there will be much more at stake than bragging about continental supremacy when India takes on Sri Lanka in what is expected to be a scintillating Sunday.
While both teams are dealing with injury concerns, Rohit Sharma and Co. will have to come up with a near-perfect show against a Sri Lankan outfit – backed by a 35,000-strong home crowd – that has nothing to lose at the R. Premadasa Stadium.
Contrary to most of last week, the weather in the port city has been brighter and hotter with every passing day. Despite the radar alerting a couple of thunderstorms predicted in the afternoon, a combination of a reserve day provision and an efficient groundstaff will in all likelihood result in either Rohit or Dasun Shananka lifting the coveted trophy on Sunday night itself.
For India, the match becomes even more important considering the pressure it will be carrying for repeating the 2011 wonders at home starting next month. Having wilted under pressure in ICC tournaments for a decade and not having won a multi-nation tournament title for five years, it will be paramount for India to carry the confidence into the global showpiece event.
On pitches that have expectedly become slower with every passing match over the last week, India will have to get its act right. Axar Patel, having hurt his wrist and elbow during a valiant knock in Friday’s run-chase against Bangladesh, is an unlikely starter. Washington Sundar has joined the squad as Axar’s backup, with the final call on his formal induction into the squad to be taken later on Saturday night.
Should Axar be sidelined, India will be tempted to get Washington in the XI with an eye on bolstering its batting depth and spin department.
Sri Lanka has been dealt with a severe blow, with mystery spinner Maheesh Theekshana having been ruled out of the final. Spin-bowling all-rounder Sahan Arachchige joined the squad for its pre-match training session on Saturday afternoon.
Shreyas Iyer is unlikely to be risked, considering next week’s series against Australia to serve as the final fitness test for the batter.
India will rely on the big three – captain Rohit, his opening partner Shubman Gill and run-machine Virat Kohli – to come to the occasion.
Can it return to India high on confidence? Or will Sri Lanka – having survived a scare in the first round and pulled off a heist against Pakistan – carry the brownie points by defending its Asia Cup title?
Over to Sunday!