The winner-takes-all final of the Asia Cup 2022 will be played tonight between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
Here are the five main talking points for the match:
1- Only the third title up for grabs for perennial underperformers Pakistan
Considering that Asia Cups are being played since 1984 and Pakistan have been among the top two — if not the very best — Asian cricketing sides during all this time, it’s strange how the Men in Green have won this tournament just twice.
India have seven titles to their name and Sri Lanka five. Thus, tonight will be an opportunity for Babar Azam and Co to close the gap on the two above.
If they get the job done tonight, their triumph would come a full 10 years after a Shahid Afridi-inspired Pakistan broke Bangladesh hearts in the final.
2- Deceptive Sri Lanka’s whole greater than the sum of its parts
As Pakistan recently found out, beating Sri Lanka is easier said than done. They are no pushovers — not anymore.
The islanders, due to their results and overall loss of talent over the past five years are now taken a bit lightly but doing so in the final could be a recipe for disaster.
The present-day Sri Lanka has this canny ability to creep up on their opponents without much of a fuss.
The Lankans do not have true star power, which is evident in the fact that despite them having won the most matches so far in the tournament (4), none of their batters are in the top three run makers and none of their bowlers are among the top five wicket-takers.
However, they have an assortment of a number of 7/10 players, whose combined production, on the whole, has been greater than the sum of its parts.
3- Misfiring top order sans Rizwan
Much has been made about Pakistan’s middle order but what about the top order? The pairing of Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam, usually so reliable, has been uncharacteristically misfiring largely due to the fault of the latter.
A mere 28 remains their highest combined contribution for the opening wicket, and given that the pair does not come out firing on all cylinders, Pakistan have started their innings on the back foot in most of their matches in this tournament.
Fakhar Zaman, too, only has a half-century to his name this tournament and that came against the not-so-mighty Hong Kong. When two-thirds of the top order of a “top-heavy” side is failing consistently on gentle UAE pitches, it is an alarming sign in what is another World Cup year.
4- Conservative approach up top
Another cause of concern against Pakistan openers, even when they are in form, has been their conservative approach in the first five overs. Rarely do we see Babar and Rizwan finding their range early, which is somewhat understandable considering the series of unreliable batters that follows them.
At times, however, their propensity to play safe can create pressure on the batters below, which is what happened in the defeat to Sri Lanka. At one point in the 10th over, Pakistan were 63-1 and going at ODI-like pace in a T20 game.
This approach of theirs has also been called out by several experts in the buildup to the final, with Inzamamul Haq saying that the openers shouldn’t just come out to stay at the crease but they should also look for scoring opportunities early on.
While the Pakistan fanbase is indebted to Babar and Rizwan for their reliability, if the top two/three would most often consume all the meaningful overs and leave only the pressure overs for the latter batters, this would always remain a top-heavy side.
5- Don’t fix what’s broken with something that’s also broken
As the saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder.
That is how some of the analysts have been feeling about young talent Haider Ali.
The 21-year-old has been a permanent fixture on the bench of late, and due to the batting failures, some are raising the voice of giving him a chance, ignoring the fact that a final is no place to try new things until absolutely necessitated by an injury or some other factors.
Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah and Asif Ali may not have been convincing but the combination should be retained even if it draws another blank, just so in future selections it can be said that they were given a full and fair crack of the whip.
Besides, Haider has not exactly been a beacon of consistency and reliability either in his young career and offers no guarantees of hitting the ground running. The mantra for the final should be: don’t fix what’s broken with something that’s also broken.