Match date: March 16
Venue: R Premadasa Stadium, Colombo
There was a feeling, when the draw for the Nidahas Trophy was out, that it would come to this – Sri Lanka and Bangladesh fighting it out for the right to take on India in the final. After a slight hiccup when they lost the tournament opener to Sri Lanka, India have kept their end of the bargain up. That Bangladesh are still in the mix is thanks to their spectacular assault on a massive 214 in the first-leg tie against Sri Lanka last weekend.
Friday’s (March 16) must-win, virtual semifinal has been spiced up by the arrival of Shakib Al Hasan, the inspirational Bangladesh skipper, in the Sri Lankan national capital. Shakib had fractured his left little finger during the final of a triangular One-Day International tournament against the same opponents in Dhaka towards the end of January, and was forced to miss the subsequent two-match Test series and the two Twenty20 Internationals against the Lankans at home.
In his absence, Bangladesh lost all four matches. Not only did they miss the leadership skills of their talismanic allrounder, they also had to make do without his scything willow and his intelligent, crafty left-arm spin. With Shakib set to return as captain, Bangladesh will be quietly confident of reprising their heroics of last weekend and winning through to the final.
Sri Lanka’s campaign has gone steadily downhill since their victory against India. Their inability to defend a massive total against Bangladesh came with an even bigger price – Dinesh Chandimal, their skipper, was suspended for two games due to a serious over-rate offence, and he won’t be available unless his side makes the final. While the batting has tended to rely heavily on the two Kusals – Mendis and Perera – they have found both economy and penetration hard to come by with the ball, which is why they now find themselves in a bit of a pickle. The immediate defeat to Bangladesh notwithstanding, Sri Lanka will take heart from their recent dominance of their opponents, as well as the vociferous support they are certain to receive from a packed Premadasa.
Kusal Mendis: Since his return to the national side early this year, Mendis has been in sensational form. He has been the fulcrum of the batting in this tournament too, and while he limped off with a quadriceps injury in the last match against India, indications are that he will turn up fine on the morrow.
Mushfiqur Rahim: The little wicketkeeper-batsman fashioned exquisite unbeaten 72s with contrasting outcomes in both of Bangladesh’s previous outings, and will look to carry that form into this crucial encounter. Mahmudullah, who was the captain in Shakib’s absence, indicated that Bangladesh might push him up from No. 4 for this decisive game.
Shakib’s return should lend class, depth and versatility to the Bangladesh side. Sri Lanka will have to work out if they should continue to stick with Akila Dananjaya and Jeevan Mendis, or turn to their third spin option in Amila Aponso, the left-arm tweaker.
“If he (Shakib) is fit enough to play, then someone of his class and caliber we will have to consider” – Courtney Walsh, the interim Bangladesh coach.
“They have the advantage, because he is the world’s No. 1 allrounder and we all know that he is a quality player” – Chandika Hathurusingha, the Sri Lankan coach.
Sri Lanka: Thisara Perera (capt), Upul Tharanga, Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, Dasun Shanaka, Kusal Janith Perera (wk), Jeewan Mendis, Isuru Udana, Akila Dananjaya, Amila Aponso, Nuwan Pradeep, Dushmantha Chameera, Dhananjaya de Silva, Suranga Lakmal.
Bangladesh: Shakib Al Hasan (capt), Tamim Iqbal, Soumya Sarkar, Imrul Kayes, Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Mahmudullah Riyad, Sabbir Rahman, Mustafizur Rahman, Rubel Hossain, Liton Das, Taskin Ahmed, Abu Hider, Abu Jayed, Ariful Haque, Nazmul Islam, Nurul Hasan, Mehedi Hasan.