Asia Cup: Sri Lanka, Pak prepare for finale
The avalanche of cricket over two weeks split between Fatullah and Mirpur culminates in the Asia Cup title-decider on Saturday.
The Sher-e-Bangla stadium will host Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the latter having poached a win from the former last week, to decide the champions of Asia.
As Pakistan sits on the cusp of defending their Asia Cup title, captain Misbah-ul-Haq could sketch a legacy of his own.
From the Niazi clan, like Imran Khan, Misbah accepted the challenge of leading a team that was barred from playing at home after the 2009 terror attacks on the touring Sri Lankans and a side punctured by the fall of important players to spot-fixing.
Through the 2012 Asia Cup triumph, 3-0 Test whitewash of England and the historic chase in the Sharjah Test against Sri Lanka earlier this year, Misbah's contribution with the bat never demanded attention - an ODI century still eludes him.
The situation prevailed in the ongoing Asia Cup as well. But for a team distracted by perennial controversies, his inputs stretched beyond batting - maintaining unity being a prime objective.
Like always, there was no theatrics to Misbah's pre-final practice session on Friday. Umar Akmal and Saeed Ajmal joked around, Afridi enjoyed the attention that his non-participation in the practice due to a hip injury garnered and Umar Gul, Junaid Khan and Mohammad Talha stood aside in a group.
Having chatted individually with various teammates, Misbah let the egos of the team do as they pleased. Half-hour of batting in the nets done, he retreated to the team hut at the academy ground.
Thursday night's victory over Bangladesh still fresh, the Sri Lankans enjoyed a swim. Pakistan had toiled for a couple of hours, like they had on Thursday.
Through the event, Misbah's calming influence with the bat was prominent so was him asking Afridi to walk in at number seven and launch an assault on the opposition without a fear of failure.
“It was a good, positive decision from my side. So, I was confident I could manage,” Afridi had said on Thursday. The move had paid off and how! The maverick had snatched two improbable wins with his brutal hits against India and Bangladesh to take Pakistan to the summit clash.
The move to hold Akmal back at number eight, startling at first, against Bangladesh was a masterstroke too. The wicketkeeper-bat was the right man to finish the job Afridi had polished.
Misbah's tactical shrewdness could decide his side's fortunes, once again, on Saturday as they come up against Kumar Sangakkara's fabulous form with the bat and Lasith Malinga's deadly death-bowling.
The chances of Shahid Afridi exploding with the same force for the third game in a row is uncertain, but so were the possibilities of him repeating the heroics of the India game against Bangladesh.
When he relaxed in the shade of the team's tent while the rest practiced on Thursday, it was a concern. When he spent most of the time with the physio a day before the final, it was worrying for Pakistan.
"Afridi has a Grade 1 hip flexor strain. Our physio Richard is working on him. He’s been given rest and treatment. Hopefully tomorrow before the start of the match we’ll know the complete situation about Shahid Afridi. He has responded well to the treatment," Pakistan manager, Zakir Khan, said.
"It is really important he plays with the kind of impact he is having on our team and the opposition," commented Misbah-ul-Haq. Zakir also stated that there were injury concerns to Sharjeel Khan, Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Gul, but they are expected to be fit.