Pakistan will take on Sri Lanka in the 2022 Asia Cup final at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Sunday.
Beyond tackling the wily spinners from both camps, negotiating the in-form Sri Lankan openers and tackling the toss impact, the outcome of the final could also hinge on how the No. 3 of both teams fare with the bat.
The No. 3 is a tactically important batting position in T20 cricket, especially for a left-hander.
Not only does one have to target their favourable match-ups early on, but also rotate strike and bat deep so that they can shield their batting partners from unfavourable match-ups at the death.
Pakistan's No. 3 Fakhar Zaman has struggled at both.
Zaman’s last five scores in this Asia Cup are 13, 5, 15, 53 and 10 (most recent first) - 96 runs in five innings at a strike rate of under 105 and an average of below 20. He is one of the three left-handers in Pakistan’s top seven.
Sri Lanka used star leggie Wanindu Hasaranga twice inside the first 10 to target a struggling right-handed Babar Azam. Zaman faced five of the 12 balls Hasaranga bowled and eked out just two runs. Zaman was caught shortly after.
If you thought Zaman's numbers were bad, wait till you see Sri Lanka's returns at No. 3 because they are even more appalling.
Charith Asalanka - also a left-hander - was dropped in the last game after scores of 0, 1, 8, and 0 at 3, consuming 21 balls. Danushka Gunathilaka, who batted at No. 3 in the final Super 4 game against Pakistan, was out for a four-ball duck.
The No. 3 has particular value in this final because both teams have been excellent while bowling at the death. Sri Lanka's economy rate is 9.03 and Pakistan's is 9.63. So, scoring quick runs upfront will have more value tonight.
That also has been the general trend in this tournament. Nearly 30 per cent (1074) of the total team runs (3598) so far have been scored in the PowerPlay.
Sri Lanka with in-form openers Kusal Mendis, Pathum Nissanka and the possibility of Gunathilaka at three could be well set up to front-load; Pakistan, with an opening trio of Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan and Zaman, will hope its No. 3 has a good night with the bat.