Defending champions Pakistan will have to contend with minor injury issues to key players Shahid Afridi and Umar Gul as they take on a consistent Sri Lanka in the final of the Asia Cup cricket tournament in Mirpur on Saturday.
Afridi, who has played a pivotal role in turning around the fortunes of Pakistan in this tournament, has suffered a grade one hip flexor strain and his availability will be known only on Saturday morning.
Paceman Gul is little bit “stiff” and Sharjeel Khan along with opener Ahmed Shehzad also have some niggles, going into the title clash.
The Sri Lankans, who had defeated the defending champions in the tournament opener, are yet to lose a match in the mega event of the sub-continent and they would hope that their campaign culminates with the title.
Pakistan’s chances would depend on how they tame seasoned Kumar Sangakkara and handle the bowling of paceman Lasith Malinga and spinner Ajantha Mendis.
It was Malinga, who had taken key wickets of Misbah-Ul Haq and Afridi in their previous clash and Sangakkara is in prime form in this tournament. He has hit one century and two fifties and his rare failure was against Bangladesh on Friday.
Pakistan, on the other hand have wriggled out of difficult situations to reach their second successive Asia Cup final and a lot of credit goes to Afridi for his 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 and life to what had been a low key Asia Cup affair.
After shattering India’s hopes, the ‘boom-boom’ Afridi returned to devastate the host country as he led Pakistan to a great win, chasing Bangladesh’s highest ever 326, with his 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 for his string of failures. The all-rounder has singlehandedly 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.”
Sri Lanka would look to do the things quietly with all the buzz surrounding Afridi.