With their star players back in the squad, a buoyant Sri Lanka would like to get into the groove when they face minnows United Arab Emirates first-up in a round robin league encounter of the Asia Cup T20 tournament here tomorrow.
The Sri Lankan team bears a formidable look with the comeback of their skipper Lasith Malinga and Test captain Angelo Mathews, both of whom were missing due to injuries during the recent T20 series against India.
The return of Malinga in the bowling department and Mathews as one of the most prolific all-rounders make Lanka runaway favourites against UAE, who have joined the ‘big boys’ after winning a four-team qualifying event prior to the tournament proper.
The other big boost for Sri Lanka will be seasoned left-arm spinner Ragana Herath’s return to the side. Herath’s experience will mean a lot for the defending World T20 champions on a slow Sher-e-Bangla pitch.
The batting looks good with Tillekaratne Dilshan at the top along with Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Chamara Kapugedara and Thisara Perera, all of whom are proven match winners.
Sri Lanka’s bowling will have Malinga unleashing his toe-crushing yorkers and is expected to be complemented by Nuwan Kulasekara, who can move the ball both ways. The third seamer could be Dushmantha Chameera, who bowls at a lively pace.
Sachithra Senanayeke and Herath will be in charge of the spin department.
There were signs that the absence of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara has been felt as the team’s performance graph has been inconsistent since the two legends quit international cricket.
While there is no doubting the abilities of Chandimal and Kapugedara, the two batsmen expected to carry the burden of the team, their match-winning performances have been few and far in between.
For UAE, Asia Cup serves them another opportunity to get a crack at the ‘big boys’ in the game.
They have done well by defeating Afghanistan, Hong Kong and Oman in the qualifying tournament. In fact, it was an upset win against Afghanistan when they won by 16 runs while their victories against Hong Kong and Oman came relatively easily—by 6 wickets and 71 runs respectively.
Right-arm medium fast bowler Mohammed Naveed, with seven wickets, and top-order batsman Mohammed Shahzad, with 111 runs, have been UAE’s star performers.