High hopes for underdogs Sri Lanka in Asia Cup final
DUBAI; Sri Lanka are poised for an unlikely Asia Cup victory over favourites Pakistan in Sunday’s final after a giant-slaying streak through the tournament despite troubles at home.
The island nation had to abandon plans to host the Twenty20 competition due to political unrest and stumbled in their opener to Afghanistan by eight wickets, with nearly 10 overs remaining.
But the five-time champions bounced back to beat Bangladesh, Afghanistan and tournament favourites India, scuttling a hotly anticipated finals showdown between Rohit Sharma’s men and arch-rivals Pakistan.
Friday’s closing Super Four match was a dress rehearsal for the Dubai final — and Sri Lanka’s fourth straight victory, albeit with Pakistan missing two of their key players.
On Sunday they will depend on the spin pairing of Wanindu Hasaranga and Maheesh Theekshana, who helped bowl out Pakistan for 121 on Friday in a comfortable five-wicket win.
Opener Pathum Nissanka led the batting charge with an unbeaten 55 in a clinical show, but skipper Dasun Shanaka warned his team of complacency.
“The confidence we have is massive after four consecutive wins, but we still don’t take Pakistan lightly in the final,” Shanaka told reporters.
“We know they are a very good side and enough good players in their side to come back strong and we should be ready for that.”
Sri Lanka fared well in their recent home series of two Tests against Pakistan, played in Galle against the backdrop of a punishing economic crisis and political unrest.
Shanaka said his side had been bombarded with “messages of love and support” and its Asia Cup success had brought cheer back home after miserable months of blackouts, fuel shortages and protests.
“So nice that we are winning and giving back something to them,” he said.
Confidence and passion
Pakistan are weathering their own troubles at home with monsoon floods that have inundated a third of the country.
But the team have shone through the tournament, a curtain-raiser for next month’s T20 World Cup in Australia, avenging an opening game loss to India and clinching a last-over thriller against Afghanistan.
Fast bowler Naseem Shah and all-rounder Shadab Khan both missed Friday’s showdown but will lengthen Sri Lanka’s odds when they return for the final.
Naseem, 19, has kept the edge on Pakistan’s bowling attack in the absence of pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi, who missed the tournament due to injury.
He also hit two sixes in a dramatic one-wicket win over Afghanistan to seal India’s exit.
Batting remains a cause for concern, with skipper Babar Azam managing a tournament best of just 30. Mohammad Rizwan is the only consistent performer with 226 runs in five matches.
But coach Saqlain Mushtaq said he had complete faith in his side to deliver despite Azam’s “unlucky” run.
“The latest match we won against India, we chased and batted well,” he said.
“Things are moving in the right direction and we are confident.”
Pakistan’s latest loss to Sri Lanka might have stalled their momentum, but Saqlain said the team will heed the lessons of Friday’s match-up.
“I will talk about mistakes in the dressing room, but Sri Lanka will take confidence into the final and Pakistan some learnings and passion,” Saqlain said.
When will final decision be taken on Asia Cup?
As authorities continue to struggle to reach a consensus on the venue of the Asia Cup 2023, it has been learnt that the final decision could take place on the sidelines of the Indian Premier League (IPL) final on May 28.
According to Indian media, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has refused to send their team to Pakistan for the Asia Cup and is keen on ensuring that the event is held at a neutral venue.
However, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is not interested in hosting the event outside Pakistan since it would affect its efforts with regard to the return of international cricket in the country.
“The respective presidents of the Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka cricket boards will grace the IPL 2023 final to be held on May 28 at the Narendra Modi Stadium. We will hold discussions with them for outlining the future course of action in relation to Asia Cup 2023,” BCCI secretary Jay Shah, who is also the president of the Asian Cricket Council, was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times.
The BCCI also wants the entire tournament to take place in Sri Lanka instead of agreeing to PCB’s hybrid model.
Earlier, The News reported that the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) has given the green signal to Najam Sethi’s hybrid model for this year’s Asia Cup.
According to the hybrid model presented to the ACC by Najam Sethi following the early stalemate, Pakistan will host four to six matches of the Asia Cup. At the same time, India will play its matches on a neutral venue that also hosts other matches.
A source in the ACC has confirmed to The News from India that the Asian body has accepted the hybrid model proposed by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Management Committee Chairman Sethi in principle and without putting any extra conditions.
There was no condition set on Pakistan’s participation in the October World Cup to be held in India, which still depends on the Pakistan government’s approval.
“The ACC has accepted Najam’s Sethi hybrid model proposal to host the Asia Cup allotted to Pakistan. According to this hybrid model, Pakistan will host four to six matches at the venue (within Pakistan) to be decided later while India will play its matches on a neutral venue,” the source said.
“The ACC is expected to officially announce the decision within the next few weeks. According to Sethi’s model, India’s matches will be played on a neutral venue which will be decided by the ACC member countries with mutual coordination. However, even in deciding on a neutral venue, the financial aspect will be kept at the top.
“Say, India or other ACC member countries want Sri Lanka as a neutral venue, Pakistan as a host country will have the right to get a proper return of Pakistan-India matches (two or three). These must not be less than what India Board has earned by hosting the 2022 Asia Cup matches between the two countries. The amount is estimated as over half a million dollars from the two countries’ matches.
“If the ACC assures that amount, the PCB will have no hesitation even to agree with Sri Lanka as a neutral venue for the rest of the matches.”
Fakhar Zaman bags ICC Men’s Player of the Month award after stunning ODI streak
Some recent scintillating performances by Pakistan’s opening batter Fakhar Zaman have bagged him the International Cricket Council (ICC) Men’s Player of the Month award for April 2023, the cricket governing body announced on Tuesday.
The in-form batter had been named the ICC Men’s Player of the Month after a stunning month in April.
“He [Zaman] beat out tough competition from Sri Lanka spin wizard Prabath Jayasuriya, and emerging New Zealand batter Mark Chapman,” a press release by ICC stated.
The ICC said that Fakhar led the charge for Pakistan as they pulled off their second-highest ODI run-chase in Rawalpindi late in the month.
The opener smashed an unbeaten 180 to help Pakistan chase down a target of 337 against the visiting New Zealand side to go 2-0 up in the series.
Fakhar’s knock came with 17 boundaries and six massive sixes as Pakistan won with 10 balls to spare in a high-scoring contest.
This was the left-hander’s second ton in as many matches during April with his 117 off 114 balls helping Pakistan chase down 289 in the first game at the same venue.
Fakhar led the run-chase from the onset, only being dismissed in the 43rd over, by when Pakistan were well on their way to chase down the winning score. He won the Player of the Match award for his efforts.
The left-hander started the month with a rapid 47 in the first T20I in Lahore against New Zealand, playing a part in the home side’s thumping 88-run victory. While he didn’t click in the next two T20I matches, Fakhar stormed into form in ODIs, a format he has always thrived in
Fakhar now has 3,148 ODI runs at an average of 49.71 and a strike-rate of almost 95 during his 67-match career and the Pakistan opener said it was a great thrill to claim the coveted award.
‘Truly an honour’
“It is truly an honour for me to be named ICC Player of the Month for April,” Fakhar said.
“This month has been one of the highlights of my career and it was an amazing feeling to play in front of my own people in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Karachi,” he said.
Sharing his personal favourite: the hard-hitting batter said: “I really enjoyed scoring back-to-back centuries in Rawalpindi, but my favourite was the 180 not out in the second match.
“I hope to continue the momentum leading into the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup, and make Pakistan cricket fans happy and proud with my performances.”
Will Pakistan visit India to participate in ICC World Cup?
As the World Cup inches closer, there are many questions and uncertainties arising about Pakistan’s participation in the mega event as it is scheduled to take place in India.
The Indian cricket board had refused to send its team to Pakistan and hence, the Green Shirts might not travel to its neighbouring country for participating in the mega event as well.
However, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is most likely to get permission from its government to participate in World Cup in India in light of Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s statement during his visit to Goa, sources told GeoSuper.tv.
“Sports should be kept separated from politics and foreign policy,” the FM had stated during his visit to attend the two-day Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting.
Earlier, several reports claimed that Pakistan will play against India in World Cup at Narendra Modi Stadium, Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
“Pakistan may not agree to play against India at Narendra Modi Stadium due to certain reasons,” a source said, without discussing further details on this matter before the announcement of the official schedule.
It must be noted here that International Cricket Council (ICC) hasn’t announced the schedule for the World Cup so far. The mega event will take place in October-November this year in India.
A reliable source in PCB has also denied reports regarding their demand from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to give them a guarantee in writing that if Pakistan goes to India for ICC World Cup, then they will come here for ICC Champions Trophy in 2025.
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