ASIA CUP: Pakistan aim for winning start in curtain raiser game

DHAKA:  Pakistan is determined to defend its trophy, but Sri Lanka’s captain Angelo Mathews remains optimistic as the two cricket giants face off in the opening match of the five-nation Asia Cup on Tuesday, in the run-up to the Twenty20 World Cup.

Pakistan, which won the title in 2012, is aiming to put pressure on its opponents with a team balancing experienced players and newcomers.

Both teams are focusing not just on the opening match but on the whole tournament.

“We have played a lot against Pakistan and India,” Mathews told reporters at a news briefing on Monday. “We know them and they also know us.”

“All the teams are even. They will want to win the matches. We also would like to win. Hopefully there will be a really good competition,” he added.

For Tuesday’s opening match at Fatullah, Sri Lanka has one thing in its favor – it played here a month ago against Bangladesh, winning two Tests, three one-day internationals and two Twenty20s.

“I think we need to show more good performance to go further,” Mathews said. “We beat Bangladesh 3-0 – that doesn’t mean that it would be easier for us to win the Asia Cup. It will be a tough tournament and there will be huge challenges.”

He continued, “The main challenge will be to tackle spinners successfully. All the teams have good spinners.”

Pakistan’s skipper Misbah-ul-Haq said Sunday they are taking spirit from the series wins over Sri Lanka and South Africa, and will fight to defend the Asia Cup title. The team beat Bangladesh in the 2012 final.

While the team has several relatively inexperienced players including Sharjeel Khan, Sohaib Maqsood, Mohammad Talha, Bilawal Bhatti and Anwar Ali, it also has Misbah himself and Mohammad Hafeez, who will play the key role in batting.

“Ahmed Shehzad has been part of our team for quite a while, he has been doing well,” Misbah said. “Sharjeel Khan had an average series, but he gave glimpses of being a good player, he can time the ball well. We are looking forward to seeing him develop into a good player,” he said.

He has faith in Sohaib Maqsood too.

“Maqsood played well in South Africa and against Sri Lanka. With experienced players, a few youngsters like Anwar Ali and Bilawal Bhatti, they are putting together some good scores. I am happy that it is a good, balanced unit,” he said.

The Pakistan skipper is not willing to take the Asia Cup tournament lightly, and is even serious about first-timer Afghanistan.

“All teams have ability to win against any side,” he said. “It will be good competition. The last Asia Cup was witness of that: Bangladesh beat two big teams and they came close to us. You can expect any team can win against any team.

PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Sohaib Maqsood’s busy knocks had helped Pakistan consolidate their innings in the UAE, as he rotated the strike effectively against the likes of Sachithra Senanayake, and struck large, leg-side boundaries to entrench his team’s dominance in several of those matches. Sri Lanka are again missing Rangana Herath – the bowler who often exerts control during the middle-overs – and Maqsood will hope to sustain his success in that period.
Thisara Perera had such a poor tour of the UAE, he was denied permission to go to the Big Bash League and was asked instead to train with Sri Lanka’s A team. A little tough love from the selectors appears to have done him good. His unbeaten 80 in the first ODI against Bangladesh led Sri Lanka’s remarkable resurgence in that match, but Thisara will want to limit the troughs in his career.

MATCH TIME
Pakistan v Sri Lanka
Venue: Fatullah
Time: 13:30 IST

SQUADS

PAKISTAN: Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Mohammad Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad, Sharjeel Khan, Shahid Afridi, Umar Akmal, Sohaib Maqsood, Fawad Alam, Saeed Ajmal, Abdul Rehman, Junaid Khan, Umar Gul, Anwar Ali, Bilawal Bhatti, Mohammad Talha

SRI LANKA: Angelo Mathews (captain), Dinesh Chandimal, Lasith Malinga, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kusal Perera, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Lahiru Thirimanne, Thisara Perera, Dhammika Prasad, Suranga Lakmal, Chaturanga De Silva, Sachithra Senanayake, Ajantha Mendis, Ashan Priyanjan.
AGENCIES