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High hopes for underdogs Sri Lanka in Asia Cup final

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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.

Pakistans captain Babar Azam (L) and teammate Fakhar Zaman take a run during the Asia Cup Twenty20 international cricket Super Four match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium in Dubai on September 9, 2022. — AFP
Pakistan’s captain Babar Azam (L) and teammate Fakhar Zaman take a run during the Asia Cup Twenty20 international cricket Super Four match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium in Dubai on September 9, 2022. — AFP

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.

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Pakistan

PCB acquires a multi-story structure next to Gaddafi Stadium

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The multi-story building is set to undergo renovations and be converted into a seven-star hotel, catering to both local and foreign guests.

With this development, the problem of housing foreign players and visiting teams during the Pakistan Super League (PSL)—who presently have to stay in five-star hotels in the area—will be resolved.

This will also save travel time and get rid of traffic problems while teams are traveling from their hotels to the stadium.

In addition, three significant stadiums, including the Gaddafi Stadium, are being renovated by PCB in preparation for the 2025 ICC Champions Trophy, which will be held in Pakistan.

In an interview with the media during the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 9 final last month, Chairman PCB Mohsin Naqvi acknowledged the necessity of upgrading three main stadiums before moving on to other locations.

“Before the Champions Trophy, our three key venues—Lahore, Karachi, and Rawalpindi—will be refurbished. After these three are completed, we will renovate the remaining venues as well. After they are renovated, our stadiums will be state-of-the-art, according to Chairman PCB.

Later that month, representatives from NESPAK (National Engineering Services of Pakistan) gave the chairman the idea to renovate three significant stadiums.

In addition to highlighting the significance of renovating the hospitality boxes at all three locations, the chairman gave instructions to the officials about his plans to improve the view for the fans from every seat in the stadium, according to a press statement from the PCB.

“The Chairman directed the NESPAK officials to begin stadium work immediately, keeping in mind a tight window of time before hosting the ICC Champions Trophy 2025, as the upgradation plan will be finalized soon.”

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Pakistan

Shan Masood desires test matches between India and Pakistan.

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Due to long-standing political difficulties between the two adjacent countries, Pakistan and India have not played a Test match since 2007–08 and a bilateral series in any format since 2012–13.

However, only international competitions such as the Asia Cup and ICC World Cups brought the bitter adversaries together.

Their most recent match took place in front of an enormous crowd of about 130,000 in Ahmedabad’s Narendra Modi Stadium for the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2024, while their T20 World Cup 2022 match was seen by an even larger gathering of about 94,000 people at Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

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Pakistan

Sources claim that Babar was reappointed as the cricket team’s captain.

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Reappointing Babar Azam to lead the national squad upon the call of the newly-formed selection committee was decided by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) on Friday.

Sources claim that Babar will captain the Green Shirts in the upcoming five-match Twenty20 series against New Zealand, which kicks off on April 20.

After the team’s crushing defeat in the ICC World Cup 2023, Shaheen Shah Afridi was chosen as the white-ball captain, while Shan Masood was named the red-ball captain by the previous PCB administration.

The sources claimed that Babar’s appointment as captain was suggested by the selection committee. They said he will go to the Kakul training camp as captain.

Shaheen had chosen to step down, but his close friends urged him against it and to wait for the PCB’s decision, according to individuals close to him.

After guiding the team for four years, Babar resigned as captain of the national team in all formats in November of last year. After Pakistan’s poor performance in both the Asia Cup and the World Cup, where they were unable to advance to the semi-finals, he faced criticism for several months.

Although Babar was named Test and white-ball captain in 2020 and 2019, respectively, the side has neither won an Asia Cup nor an ICC championship while he has been captain.

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