Asia Cup 2018 - PREVIEW
Confident Lankans Seek More Asia Cup Glory
A confident Sri Lankan cricket team will leave shortly for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) seeking to add more Asia Cup Silverware to their trophy cupboard.
The Asia Cup cricket tournament 2018 is being held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from 15-28 September, with the participation of six countries – India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Hong Kong – the winner of the qualifying tournament.
The tournament will be the 14th edition of the Asia Cup and UAE play hosts for the third time having done so previously in 1984 and 1995. The six teams are divided into two groups of three each and will play each other on a league basis and then the top two teams from each group will compete in a Super Four group and play each other with the top two teams meeting in the final.
Sri Lanka and India have been the most successful teams in Asia Cup history with both countries having won the ODI tournament five times each, but the Lankans have been runners-up on six occasions to India’s three. In 2016 the tournament was reduced to a T20 tournament which India won beating the hosts, Bangladesh, that year.
Sri Lanka are drawn in Group B alongside Bangladesh and Afghanistan whilst India and Pakistan are in group A together with Hong Kong.
Sri Lanka will face Bangladesh in the tournament opener on September 15, with their next game set for September 17 against Afghanistan.
The Sri Lankan selectors have picked an experienced 16-member squad for the tournament with one eye on the World Cup in June next year in England. It is clear that the majority of the players in the squad are also earmarked for the June event.
The most interest is certain to be focused on veteran fast bowler Lasith Malinga who has been included in the squad in what is clearly a ‘final chance’ for the champion bowler to book a place in the 2019 World Cup squad for one last hurrah before retirement.
The Lankans are likely to be without two members of their squad for the first half of the tournament. First choice spinner Akila Dananjaya has been granted special leave as he awaits the birth of his first child and is set to miss the first two games. Dinesh Chandimal suffered a hairline fracture on the middle finger of his right hand during Sri Lanka’s recently-concluded domestic T20 tournament and the selectors are awaiting medical advice on how long it will take to heal.
Whilst Dananjaya will not be replaced in the squad as he is sure to be available at least for the second round, Chandimal’s case is different and if he needs more time to recover, his place could be taken by Niroshan Dickwella who was extremely unlucky to miss out on a place in the original squad.
Dickwella was in impressive form against the visiting South Africans and his aggressive approach always put the bowlers on the back foot. However, Dickwella had a poor return in the recent T20 league tournament scoring just 24 runs in four innings and this may have caused his omission.
Sri Lanka cannot afford to take either of their first round opponents Bangladesh or Afghanistan lightly and they will surely miss the services of Dananjaya who has emerged as Lanka’s leading spinner in the shorter formats with the rare ability to bowl with the new ball.
Malinga’s presence has added a new dynamic to the Lankan attack and if the star bowler can produce anything like his best form it will lift the whole team and give them a crucial weapon – especially in the death overs.
The hastily arranged and recently concluded local T20 tournament amongst four regional teams had many detractors but it had some very competitive contests and drew appreciable crowds. The tournament itself involving just four teams meant that a lot of good players missed out on the opportunity to showcase their talents and two more teams would have made the tournament more interesting whilst allowing more cricketers to actively participate. However, the tournament appears to have served some purpose in helping the selectors decide on their final squad of 16 players.
Opener Upul Tharanga was in explosive form during the tournament scoring over 400 runs with two centuries and seems to have cemented his place in the team. The front runner to partner him is Dhanuskha Gunatilleke who also enjoyed a good tournament with 247 runs. Kusal Perera’s ability to open the innings or bat at number three will probably see him occupying the latter slot in addition to taking over wicket keeping duties.
Dhananjaya de Silva and Kusal Mendis will probably have to compete for the number four slot and de Silva’s ability to bowl tidy off spin may swing the vote in his favour. Skipper Angelo Mathews, and all-rounders Thisara Perera and Dasun Shanaka at numbers five, six and seven provide a strong middle order.
Both Thisara Perera and Shanaka should have already had their names pencilled in for the World Cup squad as their ability to play the big shots that can change a game, makes their presence vital in the team.
Mathews cannot continue to play as a specialist batsman only as Sri Lanka desperately needs him to be able to bowl even five overs in every game. He alone has the ability to turn a good team into an excellent champion side.
In Dananjaya’s absence, fellow off-spinning all-rounder Dilruwan Perera will be first choice spinner and bat at number eight.
Fast bowler Kasun Rajitha was the leading wicket taker in the local T20 tournament and deserves his place in the team and with Malinga occupying the last slot, there is room for one more bowler which could be a second spinner as Thisara Perera and Shanaka both bowl medium pace. Left arm spinner Amila Aponso whose inclusion in the squad ahead of fellow left arm bowler Lakshan Sandakhan was a bit surprising, and will offer more variety to the Lankan attack.
Local fans will surely hope that the Lankans will return with more Asia Cup Silverware.
Sri Lanka squad:
Angelo Mathews (capt), Upul Tharanga, Dhanushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Perera, Kusal Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal, Thisara Perera, Dasun Shanaka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Akila Dananjaya, Dilruwan Perera, Amila Aponso, Kasun Rajitha, Suranga Lakmal, Dushmantha Chameera, Lasith Malinga
Standby: Shehan Madushanka, Nuwan Pradeep, Lakshan Sadakan, Shehan Jayasuriya, Niroshan Dickwella