Sri Lanka will travel to the oil-rich United Arab Emirates searching for their worth against Asia’s best. In Dubai they’ll find the answers they seek about the nature of their true form outside the realms of their home turf.
Beating South Africa in the Tests and T20 while conceding the one-dayers has shown that the Sri Lankans have lifted a few notches after repeated drubbings from powerhouses India and Pakistan.
But against Asia’s best there is no respite for the maturing Lankans, who will have to be on the money to overcome the fast emerging and highly talented Bangladesh and Afghanistan sides, who are certainly no easybeats to anyone in world cricket.
With the Asian region stepping up and the format reverting to the 50-over game once more, the Sri Lankans, who last won the Asia Cup in this format, will reflect on the composition of the team without the stars who took the honours for them in 2010 and wonder whether they have enough fight and consistency to topple their more fancied opponents.
Thankfully they have been spared the embarrassment of playing India and Pakistan in their group, considerably increasing their chances of making the top four, while the organisers plot a marketing bonanza for themselves by pitting the Indians and Pakistanis in the same group.
it will be something of an acid test for the Sri Lankans if they are pitted against the high-riding Indians and Pakistanis, and in many ways it will be a searching experience for them to find out how much they have developed as a team since their last forgettable meetings.
The return of suspended former skipper Dinesh Chandimal will add needed experience to the Sri Lankan batting line-up, and reappointed captain Angelo Matthews will be hoping that the young brigade will fire consistently if they are to set up match winning totals.
Kusal Mendis in particular needs to find some form after a quiet series against South Africa, and the rest of the batting will rest on the shoulders of skipper Matthews, Dhananjaya De Silva, Danushka Gunathilaka, Thisara Perera, Dasun Shanaka and the hard-hitting Kusal Perera.
Lasith Malinga, who has been overlooked for a period of time until he met the expectations of the selectors, is a welcome addition to the bowling attack, and his role will be to support in-form Suranga Lakmal, Akila Dhananjaya and Dilruwan Perera, giving some bite to a formerly toothless attack, which went for many against the Indians and Pakistanis.
The current lineup under the watchful eye of coach Chandika Hathurusinghe will be a force to be reckoned with as the Lankans shift into gear against the feisty Bangladeshis in their opening encounter in what has now developed into a fierce rivalry after some spiteful recent encounters.
Hathurusinghe took the Bangladesh team to a respectable level before departing to his home country after a dispute with the administration in that country.
India and Pakistan are hot favourites to win this year’s tournament.
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