Sri Lanka’s Asia Cup plans were somewhat hampered when Danushka Gunathilaka headed home with a lower back injury on Friday but skipper Angelo Mathews maintained that he has sufficient ammunition to make a winning start to the six-nation tournament when they take on Bangladesh in the curtain raiser under hot and humid conditions in Dubai.
The match will begin at 3.30—an hour later than the usual start time of a limited over game—to minimize players being exposed to the extreme conditions that scorch this Arab nation during summer.
“Very hot out here,” Angelo said. "But it is the same for all teams. Our focus has to be playing well. The last few days we had good preparations for the tournament and are looking forward to the challenge.”
Gunathilaka’s absence is a double blow for Sri Lanka, which won the Asia Cup in 2014. The team has now lost one of their key players in Dinesh Chandimal (injured). But Mathews was not overly worried about factors beyond his control.
“It's disappointing to lose Chandi, then Danushka who was in good nick during the domestic T-20 Tournament,” he admitted. ‘At the same time, we have the skill and the squad to go out there and win games. That is a plus point for us."
Mathews did not reveal the playing XI that would take the field this morning but hinted that Kusal Mendis may partner Upul Tharanga as opener—a slot Gunathilaka was to have occupied before his premature exit.
“Most probably Kusal (Mendis) will open with Tharanga," he said. "We also have Kusal Janith Perera. We have about four different opening combinations on tour. We just got an opportunity to take a look at the wicket. We need to chat to the selectors and then make a call as to what we need to do and we will be taking all factors into consideration”.
Also missing from the squad is Akila Dananjaya, team’s frontline spinner with a big bag of tricks who had decided to skip the first two-matches due to family commitment. This means Dilruwan Perera will have to shoulder the burden he is quite comfortable with in Test cricket but not so much in the white-ball form. Perera has only featured in 12 ODIs in his career and last played a game one year ago. He will now have the services of Lasith Malinga—once a feared seamer with a sling arm action to lead Sri Lanka’s bowling attack—but like him, Malinga has yet to play a game since the Champions Trophy in England last year.
Mathews confirmed the old guard will take the field today.
“Lasith is there in the side,” he said. “But we have not made a call on others. We don’t think that there will be too many changes, perhaps one or two.” It will be interesting to see whether Sri Lanka will go with three fast bowlers and one frontline spinner for the tournament, strengthening the batting line-up.
Sri Lanka won their last two ODI matches against South Africa at home. Their record in white-ball cricket has been atrocious in 2017 as they conceded three 5-0 defeats to South Africa, India and Pakistan in addition to a historic home 2-3 series defeat at the hands of minnows Zimbabwe.
On the other hand Bangladesh are brimming in confidence having recorded a 2-1 series win against West Indies and will look to make it the final for the second time running. They were the losing finalist in the 2016 edition when the tournament was played in the T20 format. Unlike Sri Lanka, the Tigers have a full strength side to pick from after team manager Khaled Mahmud ruled out any injury concerns ahead of the tournament with Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Mahmudullah, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mustafizur Rahman all there.
All in all this will be an interesting battle and an important one with two even teams looking for early momentum to the tournament. On paper, Bangladesh looks the better side, given the strength and the experience in their side but Sri Lanka have the ammunition to beat any team if they play to their full potential.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews(c), Kusal Perera, Kusal Mendis, Upul Tharanga, Thisara Perera, Dasun Shanaka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Akila Dananjaya, Dilruwan Perera, Amila Aponso, Kasun Rajitha, Suranga Lakmal, Dushmantha Chameera, Lasith Malinga, Niroshan Dickwella, Shehan Jayasuriya
Bangladesh: Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Mashrafe Mortaza(c), Mohammad Mithun, Liton Das, Mushfiqur Rahim, Ariful Haque, Mahmudullah, Mosaddek Hossain, Mehidy Hasan, Nazmul Islam, Rubel Hossain, Mustafizur Rahman, Abu Hider Rony, Nazmul Hossain Shanto, Mominul Haque
Spinner Akila Dananjaya will join the national team on Sunday after his wife gave brith to family's first child. Dananjaya did not travel with the team initially.