The curse of the Asia Cup has persisted. It’s not going to be India versus Pakistan, in sync with the tournament’s 39-year history.
Nevertheless, with the World Cup less than three weeks away, there will be much more at stake than bragging about the continental supremacy when India take on Sri Lanka in what is expected to be a scintillating Sunday.
While both the teams are dealing with injury concerns, Rohit Sharma and Co. will have to come up with a near-perfect show against a Sri Lankan outfit — backed by a 35,000-strong home crowd — that has nothing to lose at the R. Premadasa Stadium.
Contrary to most of the last week, the weather in the port city has been brighter and hotter with every passing day.
Despite the radar alerting a couple of thunderstorms predicted on Sunday afternoon, a combination of a reserve day provision and an efficient ground-staff will in all likelihood result in either Rohit or Dasun Shananka lifting the coveted trophy on Sunday night itself.
For India, the match becomes even more important considering the pressure it will be carrying for repeating the 2011 wonders at home starting next month.
Having wilted under pressure in ICC tournaments for a decade and not having won a multi-nation tournament title for five years, it will be paramount for India to carry the confidence into the global show-piece event.
On pitches that have expectedly become slower with every passing match over the last week, India will have to get its act right in the final.
Axar Patel, having hurt his wrist and elbow during a valiant knock in Friday’s run-chase against Bangladesh, has been replaced by Washington Sundar.
India will be tempted to get Washington in the playing XI with an eye on bolstering its batting depth and spin department.
Sri Lanka, has been dealt with a severe blow, with mystery spinner Maheesh Theekshana having been ruled out of the final.
Spin bowling all-rounder Sahan Arachchige joined the Sri Lankan squad for its pre-match training session on Saturday afternoon ahead of the big match.
Shreyas Iyer is unlikely to be risked, considering the next week’s series against Australia to be served as the final fitness test for the batter.
India will rely on the big three — captain Rohit, his opening partner Shubman Gill and run-machine Virat Kohli — to come to the occasion.
Can it return to India high on confidence? Or will Sri Lanka – having survived a scare in the first round and pulling off a heist against Pakistan – carry the brownie points by defending its Asia Cup title?
Over to Sunday!
The teams (from):
India: Rohit Sharma (Capt.), Hardik Pandya (Vice-capt.), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Tilak Varma, K.L. Rahul (wk.), Ishan Kishan (wk.), Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohd. Shami, Mohd. Siraj, Prasidh Krishna, Washington Sundar.
Sri Lanka: Dasun Shanaka (Capt.), Kusal Mendis (Vice-capt.), Pathum Nissanka, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Perera, Charith Asalanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Maheesh Theekshana, Dunith Wellalage, Matheesha Pathirana, Kasun Rajitha, Dushan Hemantha, Binura Fernando, Pramod Madushan.