The smell of fresh paint and the blaze of the welding machine in the media box ahead of the Asia Cup Super Four match between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh at the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo are ciphers for the eleventh-hour confirmation of the venue following heavy rains in the capital city last week.
And even though the skies cleared on the eve of the game, the teams lock horns under the shadow of the announcement of a reserve day for the India versus Pakistan clash on September 10, which left coaches of both sides surprised.
Bangladesh, however, will have little time to dwell on the politics of sport as it faces the host for the second time in just over a week in a must-win game.
Its fortunes have revolved around its batting, which has blown hot and cold, as has the form of makeshift opener Mehidy Hasan Miraz. He could be joined at the top by the consistent Litton Das even as the Tigers come to terms with the loss of in-form Najmul Hossain Shanto, who picked up a hamstring injury and has been ruled out for two weeks keeping in mind that the World Cup is on the horizon, as confirmed by coach Chandika Hathurusingha.
Bangladesh’s only good showing with the bat in the tournament, against Afghanistan, came on either side of two batting collapses. It lost early wickets in the PowerPlay against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, leaving the middle-order to do the heavy lifting. While it was Shanto’s resolute 89 against the Lankans that took Bangladesh to 164, Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim’s 100-run stand for the fifth wicket gave the score some respectability against Pakistan.
Shakib, however, will hope for more success with the ball, along with his spin partner Miraz. The duo forms an all-weather combination but has been starved of wickets in recent games.
Keeping that in mind, their pace trio of Taskin Ahmed, Shoriful Islam and Hasan Mahmud will be key against Sri Lanka, which is on a 12-match unbeaten streak, but scraped through to the Super-Four stage after a two-run win over Afghanistan, which was allegedly kept in the dark about the permutations for qualification.
While Sri Lanka’s batting seems to be coming into its own, the host’s pacers were taken to the cleaners by the Afghans and will have their task cut out against Bangladesh’s enviable batting depth, which has Afif Hossain slotted at No. 8.
Matheesha Pathirana had wrecked Bangladesh with a career-best four-wicket haul in the preliminary stage at Pallekele and his ability even with the new ball was a pleasant surprise. With the Lankans missing their four first-choice bowlers, Pathirana will have a lot of weight on his young shoulders.
So will his Chennai Super Kings teammate Maheesh Theekshana, whose mystery spin in the PowerPlay has been a revelation for a team lacking in depth in the pace department.
With Charith Asalanka amongst the runs in the middle-order, Kusal Mendis finding form with a 92 against Afghanistan, Dhananjaya de Silva and Dunith Wellalage providing flexibility and depth with their all-round skills, and Bangladesh yet to beat Sri Lanka in an ODI in the latter’s capital city, the host starts as favourite.
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