Comparing the predicament of Pakistan cricket with a civil war might seem facetious, but if Shahid Afridi’s men want to dispel the ghost of their disastrous tour of Australia, this is their best chance.
The Asia Cup has not been Pakistan’s cup of tea, barring their lone triumph in 2000, and Afridi and Co. must seize this opportunity to regain their winning habit before next year’s World Cup. The visitors will take on defending champions Sri Lanka in the opener at the Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium here on Tuesday, and both sides have the arsenal for a cracking contest.
The Pakistan team is bolstered with the inclusion of speedster Shoaib Akhtar and former skipper Shoaib Malik, while Sri Lanka are buoyed with Tillakaratne Dilshan striking form in the tri-series final against Zimbabwe. Dilshan looked off-colour in both IPL-III and the T20 World Cup in West Indies. The tri-series, however, worked wonders as the Sri Lankan opener topped the charts with 328 runs and scored an unbeaten hundred in the final. Skipper Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga were rested from the tri-series and all will be fresh before the four-nation tournament begins.
Sri Lanka have made a bold move to drop Sanath Jayasuriya and Ajantha Mendis and have given medium pacer Ferveez Maharoof a chance. Though Lankan chairman of selectors Aravinda De Silva pointed at Jayasuriya’s poor form for his omission, Mendis’s case was purely a tactical move, he said.
De Silva backed Maharoof’s inclusion for his good showing in Dambulla. The pacer (18 wickets in 9 matches) is the second highest wicket-taker at the venue after Muttiah Muralitharan (39 wickets in 18 matches).
But the biggest draw for the series will be Pakistan speedster Shoaib Akhtar. The Rawalpindi Express made a comeback with an impressive performance in the Pakistan domestic season this year, and with the Dambulla wicket assisting bowlers, Akhtar will surely aim to swing things back in his favour before the World Cup.
But more than their on-field performance, Pakistan need to show discipline off the field. Shahid Afridi has made it clear he won’t brook any indiscipline, but as skipper should also set an example for the rest.
Sri Lanka and India have won the Asia Cup four times each and even though numbers back the hosts against Pakistan (Sri Lanka have beaten Pakistan thrice on the trot in Dambulla last year) in the opener, Sri Lanka should be ready for a few surprises.