The Asia Cup 2016 might have got the perfect final, but the pointlessness of the last two round-robin stage matches has been a bit of a dampener, especially the final one, to be played between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Mirpur on Friday (March 4).
When the fixtures were planned, keeping in mind that India were the favourites, the Pakistan v Sri Lanka match-up would have been thought of as a virtual knockout; the last match, the one to decide which of the two teams would face India in the final. India have kept their part of the deal, but Pakistan and Sri Lanka haven’t, both of them coming out at the wrong end of the results in their games against Bangladesh. Much of that had to do with the grit and spirit with which the Bangladeshis played, but, equally, the performance of the two higher-ranked teams has been disappointing.
So disappointing that the two teams, which would have been thought of as serious contenders at the World Twenty20 2016, have a lot of questions swirling around them but few answers. Both teams have blamed the failure of the batsmen, asking their fans to be patient, to give the youngsters time to get into their groove.
But with the World T20 starting almost before the Asia Cup gets over, and there being no time to even think up a bounce-back plan, asking for patience might be wishful.
“You can’t keep losing, it’s difficult to digest,” said Angelo Mathews after the loss to India knocked them out of the Asia Cup. “We haven’t played our best yet and the most worrying thing is that we haven’t clicked as a batting order. So close to the World Cup, we have to connect the dots.”
One of those dots is Lasith Malinga, who spent one more day staring at his phone as the rest of the Sri Lankan players went through their drills at training. That was followed by a session with the team physiotherapist, and his chances of taking the field on Friday remain slim.
Azhar Mahmood, the Pakistan bowling coach, said pretty much the same thing on the eve of the Sri Lanka game: “Our bowling has bailed us out on a few occasions, but if we bat like this, we can’t win. Our openers (Khurram Manzoor and Sharjeel Khan) are making comebacks, so they are under pressure, and the pitches have been tough.
“If we had adapted well to these conditions, it would have been good, because the pitches in India should be better for batsmen. Coaches can plan and talk, but the players have to go out and do the work.”
The two openers are struggling, yes, but so is Mohammad Hafeez. Umar Akmal, Shoaib Malik and Sarfraz Ahmed have been the mainstays, but they haven’t been consistent either.
Asked to specify the problem with the Pakistan batting, Azhar pointed to the fear of failure as being a possible reason. “It’s all about confidence. If you have a big heart, you can perform well. I also think the batsmen are playing with fear; they are not playing the ball on merit,” he said.
“We have been playing badly, but it doesn’t mean we can’t play well. I don’t think we should make major changes. Chopping and changing doesn’t help the players. We won’t deny that there are problems. We have made mistakes. But there is no magic wand. We have to keep working hard, and results will come eventually.”
Now, the Asia Cup was also thought of as an opportunity for the subcontinental teams to warm up for the World T20. Pakistan and Sri Lanka should probably be looking at the last game from that angle; forget what has happened over the past week or so, and just go out and have a good time. They could also look at giving some of the boys on the bench a go to give them a bit of match feel before the big tournament.
Not to forget, there might not be much at stake here, but the team that wins the Friday game will feel infinitely better than it is at the moment, and that can only be a good thing.
Pakistan: Shahid Afridi (capt), Anwar Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Khurram Manzoor, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Irfan, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Sami, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Sharjeel Khan, Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal, Wahab Riaz.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (capt), Dushmantha Chameera, Dinesh Chandimal, Niroshan Dickwella, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Rangana Herath, Shehan Jayasuriya, Chamara Kapugedara, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Thisara Perera, Sachithra Senanayake, Dasun Shanaka, Milinda Siriwardena, Jeffrey Vandersay.