Pakistan Babar Azam Sri Lanka Dasun Shanaka
Pakistan captain Babar Azam and Sri Lankan captain Dasun Shanaka pose after the toss ahead of the DP World Asia Cup Super 4 game at the Dubai International Stadium on September 9, 2022. The teams meet again in the final on Sunday (September 11). Image Credit: AP

Sri Lanka have beaten Pakistan and India in back-to-back matches. That should instal them as favourites in the DP World Asia Cup final on Sunday (September 11). There’s more. The Dasun Shanaka-led team have won the last four games, which makes the loss in the tournament opener an aberration.

The defeat to Afghanistan was embarrassing, and the scrappy win which helped Sri Lanka qualify for the Super 4 owes a lot to Bangladesh’s error-prone game. There was nothing lucky about the rest of the victories. All of them were born out of fearless batting in chase of targets; at least three were over 170 runs.

Pathum Nissanka’s anchor role had been a feature of the Sri Lankan victory march, while the other opener Kusal Mendis blazed away. Nissanka’s presence in the middle also allowed Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Shanaka and Danushka Gunathilaka to play positively despite losing wickets.

Pathum Nissanka
Pathum Nissanka of Sri Lanka plays a shot against Pakistan in the DP World Asia Cup game at the Dubai International Stadium on September 9, 2022. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

So batting gives Sri Lanka a huge advantage. But they struggled against the steep bounce of Pakistan pacemen Mohammad Hasnain and Haris Rauf. That’s where Pakistan will draw some confidence; more so since Naseem Shah returns for the final. And they will also want vice-captain Shadab Khan to shrug off his illness as his leg-spin is critical in applying the squeeze in the middle overs.

Pace ace Shah and leggie Khan play pivotal roles in the Pakistan attack, but their pinch-hitting is crucial late in the innings. That was evident in the close game against Afghanistan. But then, that was a situation wrought by the fragility of the middle order.

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Fakhar Zaman, Iftikhar Ahmed and Khushdil Shah are supremely talented, but they haven’t been scoring well in the Asia Cup. As a result, Mohammad Nawaz, Asif Ali, Shadab Khan and Nassem Shah had to bail Pakistan out. If the middle order clicks into the scoring mode, the late order can play more freely. That would be the recipe for Pakistan’s success not just in the Asia Cup but also in the World Cup that is starting in Australia next month.

Zaman should shake free of the shackles to attack the Sri Lankan bowling. Because, barring Dilshan Madushanka, the Sri Lanka pacers haven’t been impressive. Much of the burden is carried by leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranaga and off-spinner Maheesh Theekshana, who choke the batters into committing mistakes. So Pakistan batters’ best bet is to take control before Hasaranga comes on, although Theekshana operates in the powerplay.

In the final analysis, Sri Lanka have the edge in batting, while Pakistan’s strength lies in their bowling. So who wins? That’s a difficult call. The easy answer is whoever wins the toss will win the game. But it will be a shame if the toss decides the game.