KARACHI, June 28: Pakistan face a make-or-break situation in the ninth Asia Cup cricket tournament when they battle defending champions Sri Lanka in the Super Four stage match here at the National Stadium on Sunday.
The hosts, who were soundly defeated to India in the last Group ‘B’ fixture on Thursday, qualified for the second phase of the competition minus two points, have their hopes of reaching next Sunday’s final further receded by the absence of strike bowler Umar Gul from remainder of the tournament.
Umar, who bowled just eight deliveries, has been sidelined for two weeks with a muscle injury in his ribs.
The selectors have drafted in Wahab Riaz and spinning all-rounder Mansoor Amjad in the playing eleven.
The selectors have to make some tough calls as they seek to get the playing combination right. India brutally exposed the shortcomings in the Pakistan camp two nights ago. The major worry for Pakistan is the lack of firepower in their bowling. Part-timers Fawad Alam, Younis Khan and Salman Butt were all hit around for 105 runs in 12.1 overs.
Shoaib Malik had indicated after the India match the other night that a specialist spinner was sorely missed. Hence, prospects of off-spinner Saeed Ajmal earning his first cap at the age 30 have considerably brightened.
Sri Lanka have no such worries to speak of.
After being rested from the final Group ‘A’ tie against the United Arab Emirates, old guards Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas will make a fresh start on Sunday.
Promising off-spinner Ajantha Mendis, who bowled his side to 142-run win over the UAE with a five-wicket haul, would enjoy the favourable conditions in Karachi when he bowls in tandem with the old master Muralitharan.
Sri Lanka’s track record against Pakistan is mixed one since they have won only 39 of the 110 One-day Internationals against them and have been on the losing side on 67 occasions.
However, in the Asia Cup, the Sri Lankans have emerged winners in six of the nine games against Pakistan.
Crucially from Pakistan’s perspective, the hosts have won four of the five ODIs against Sri Lanka at the National Stadium including their last encounter in October 2004 when a Mohammad Yousuf century inspired Pakistan to an eight-wicket triumph.
Shoaib Malik’s men would need the same inspiration to turn the tables on Sunday to keep alive their hopes in the ongoing tournament.
PAKISTAN: Salman Butt, Shoaib Malik (captain), Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Misbah-ul-Haq, Mansoor Amjad, Shahid Afridi, Sarfraz Ahmed, Sohail Tanvir, Rao Iftikhar, Wahab Riaz.
SRI LANKA (from): Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Udawatte, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene (captain), Chamara Silva, Tillekeratne Dilshan, Chamara Kapugedera, Kaushalya Weeraratne, Chaminda Vaas, Dilhara Fernando, Muttiah Muralitharan, Nuwan Kulasekera, Ajantha Mendis, Jehan Mubarak, Thilan Thushara.
Umpires: Tony Hill (New Zealand) and Ian Gould (England).
TV umpire: A.F.M. Akhtaruddin Shaheen (Bangladesh).
Match referee: Alan Hurst (Australia).