Bangladesh will take on Sri Lanka in the opening match of the 14th edition of the Asia Cup Cricket at Dubai International Cricket Stadium in the UAE on Saturday.
The Group ‘B’ match of the six-nation tournament will begin at 5:30 pm Bangladesh time with both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, both plagued with injuries, looking for a winning start.
With Afghanistan the third team in the group, both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will try to make a good start to the tournament and make sure they do not fall behind in the race for the Super Four.
In Mashrafe Bin Mortaza’s Bangladesh camp, talismanic all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan needs a surgery on his left little finger, but has pushed it back till after the Asia Cup; senior opener Tamim Iqbal has a swollen right ring finger and off-spinner Nazmul Hossain also has an injury in his bowling hand.
On to Sri Lanka now, Danushka Gunathilaka has returned home even before the start of the tournament with a lower back problem, and has been replaced by off-spinning all-rounder Shehan Jayasuriya. Before the Gunathilaka-Jayasuriya swap came the news that Dinesh Chandimal was out with a finger injury -- wicket-keeper batsman Niroshan Dickwella replaced him.
It’s not an ideal situation for either team, but Bangladesh do not worry too much about things what they cannot control - as Bangladesh manager Khaled Mahmud said on Thursday, “I don’t think injuries will have a big effect on us.”
Hosts for the last three successive times, Bangladesh reached the final of the 50-over Asia Cup in 2012 and the T20 version in 2016, but both times they missed out titles, losing to Pakistan and India by two runs and eight wickets respectively.
This time, Bangladesh have come into the tournament on the back of a 2-1 series win over the West Indies in the Caribbean, while Sri Lanka lost their last assignment, a five-match home series, against South Africa, but have some momentum after having won the last two games of that series and then the one-off T20I.
If recent bilateral history is anything to go by, the team currently coached by Chandika Hathurusingha beat the team formerly coached by the same man twice in a row to win the triangular series in Dhaka -- with Zimbabwe as the third team -- in January.
However, the Bangladesh boys had taken their revenge in the Nidahas Trophy against the hosts, and come into this tournament as the higher-ranked of the two teams.
Bangladesh have a full-strength side to pick from, fitness permitting, with the mainstays Shakib, Tamim, Mahmudullah Riyad, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mustafizur Rahman all there.
With Chandimal out, Sri Lanka cannot quite make the same claim, but their squad looks strong on papers too.
Angelo Mathews has tremendous experience and class, qualities that are not lacking in the core of Upul Tharanga, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Suranga Lakmal or returning Lasith Malinga either.
The return of Malinga, indeed, has been one of the stories in the lead-up to the event, with the pace bowler not having played any international cricket since September last year. Despite the presence of Lakmal and Malinga, Akila Dananjaya, the off-spinner with a big bag of tricks, could well be the front man of the bowling attack on the slowish tracks.
Bangladesh’s best batsman Tamim Iqbal has come into the Asia Cup in rollicking form, having hit two centuries in the three matches in the Caribbean. The centuries came in the two games Bangladesh won, 130* and 103, both innings of maturity and responsibility. If in the groove, he can take the game away from Sri Lanka early on.
If Lasith Malinga makes the XI, Malinga will definitely corner a fair bit of the viewers’ attention. His appearances for Sri Lanka have been sporadic in recent times, and he is not the force he once used to be with his searing yorkers and mix of slower deliveries. But he is still a force to reckon with, and will want to put in a big effort as the preparations for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 gather steam.
It is expected to be bright and sunny in Dubai through the day, and warm -- perhaps humid too -- in the evening. Runs are there to be had, but spinners will likely have a big say in how things pan out.
Among their 44 ODIs, Bangladesh only have six wins against Sri Lanka to 36 losses and two matches had seen no results.
Bangladesh squad: Mashrafe Bin Mortaza (captain), Shakib Al Hasan, Liton Kumar Das, Ariful Haque, Mominul Haque, Abu Hider, Rubel Hossain, Tamim Iqbal, Nazmul Islam, Mahmudullah, Mehidy Hasan Miraz, Mohammad Mithun, Mushfiqur Rahim, Mustafizur Rahman, Mosaddek Hossain Saikat and Nazmul Hossain.
Sri Lanka squad: Angelo Mathews (captain), Amila Aponso, Dushmantha Chameera, Akila Dananjaya, Niroshan Dickwella, Shehan Jayasuriya, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga, Kusal Mendis, Dilruwan Perera, Kusal Perera, Thisara Perera, Kasun Rajitha, Dasun Shanaka, Dhananjaya de Silva and Upul Tharanga.