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Form favours Sri Lanka in Asia Cup final against holders Pakistan

Last updated on: March 07, 2014 15:41 IST

Form favours Sri Lanka in Asia Cup final against holders Pakistan

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Defending champions Pakistan have injury issues with key players Shahid Afridi and Umar Gul to contend with as they take on a consistent Sri Lanka in the final of the Asia Cup on Saturday. 

Afridi, who has played a pivotal role in turning around the fortunes of Pakistan in this tournament, suffered a grade one hip flexor strain and his availability will be known only on Saturday morning. 

Pacer Gul is little bit "stiff", and Sharjeel Khan and opener Ahmed Shehzad have some niggles going into the title clash.

The Sri Lankans, who defeated the defending champions in the tournament opener, are unbeaten in the mega event of the subcontinent and hoping their campaign culminates with the title.

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Image: The Sri Lankan team celebrates a win
Photographs: Andrew Biraj/Reuters

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Sangakkara in prime form

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Pakistan's chances depend on how they tame the seasoned Kumar Sangakkara and handle the bowling of pacer Lasith Malinga and spinner Ajantha Mendis. 

It was Malinga who had taken key wickets of Misbah-Ul-Haq and Afridi in their previous clash, while Sangakkara is in prime form, having hit one century and two fifties.

He had a rare failure against Bangladesh.

Pakistan, on the other hand, have wriggled out of difficult situations to reach their second successive Asia Cup final, and a lot of credit for it goes to Afridi, who came up with fiery knocks of 34 and 59 against India and Bangladesh respectively. 

Those two knocks not only revived the team's hopes of their title defence, but also injected the much-needed spark to what had been a low-key Asia Cup affair.

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Image: Kumar Sangakkara hits a shot
Photographs: Andrew Biraj/Reuters

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'I want to give something to my country with my performance'

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After shattering India's hopes, the 'boom-boom' Afridi returned to devastate the host country.

Chasing Bangladesh's highest ever total -- 326, he led Pakistan to a great victory with an 18-ball half-century. 

Those two knocks could not have come at a better time for Afridi, who was facing a lot of flak back home after a string of failures. The all-rounder has single-handedly made Pakistan favourites against Sri Lanka. 

"I just knew that both the matches were important for Pakistan to win. There are many reasons that I won't like to discuss, but both of them were very important for me as well as the country," Afridi said about the importance of the two knocks. 

"There is no such thing that you will score runs with the bat every day. I've given my focus to bowling as well. I want to get myself ready in such a way that I deliver to the team, be it in batting or bowling. This is not the stage for me to occupy a slot in the side. I want to give something to my country with my performance."


Image: Shahid Afridi celebrates the win against India with teammates
Photographs: Andrew Biraj/Reuters

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All the buzz is around Afridi

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Sri Lanka will look to do the things quietly with all the buzz around Afridi. 

They are hoping that the duo of Malinga and Mendis rein in on Afridi. It will be an interesting battle between Afridi against Malinga's toe-crushing yorkers and Mendis's guile with the doosras

The form of Mahela Jayawardene is a worry, though, for Sri Lanka.

He has scored just 36 runs from four innings. 

"He [Jayawardene] normally bats very well; it's only in the last three to four matches he has failed. He's a legend of cricket. He can come back very strongly at any time. He's our key batsman along with Sangakkara. Hope he comes back to form against Pakistan," Sri Lanka all-rounder Thisara Perera said. 

The Lankans may not be a team that shows emotions, like the Pakistanis, but love to go about their things quietly and in a professional manner.


Image: Junaid Khan congratulates Shahid Afridi on his effort
Photographs: Andrew Biraj/Reuters

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Sangakkara is in the middle of a dream run

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The best thing for the Lankans is that Sangakkara is in the middle of a dream run in Bangladesh. The senior pro leads the Asia Cup run chart with 248 at an average of 248, something that has come on the back of his maiden triple century in the Test series against Bangladesh last month. 

It will be interesting to see how they cope with the challenge of the Pakistani attack, considered as the best among the Asian teams.

Pakistan will look to bring back left-arm pacer Junaid Khan, who was rested against Bangladesh, while Malinga will return for the Lankans.

With Sangakkara the man behind Sri Lanka's seven-match winning run, including five at the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium, they know the conditions like the back of their hands, having landed in the country in January.


Image: Kumar Sangakkara hits a boundary against India
Photographs: Andrew Biraj/Reuters

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