In Dhaka for the South Asian Speakers’ Summit on Achieving SDGs on Monday, Thilanga Sumathipala, Sri Lanka Cricket’s president, dropped by at the hotel to pay a surprise visit to the Sri Lanka Under-19 cricket team, and it left the teenagers surprised and motivated.
“It was a surprise for the entire team and the time he spent with the boys was a morale booster and surely added value for them to perform better in the upcoming matches,” said Ranjith Madurusinghe, the team manager.
Not long after that visit, the boys had another taste of life when they met 30 differently abled children from Parents Forum for Differently Abled (PDFA).
One look at the Sri Lankan camp tells you how jovial and helpful the Sri Lankan boys are, but rest assured, not an inch will be conceded when they take on Pakistan in the side’s last Group B game of the 2016 ICC Under-19 World Cup at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur on Wednesday (February 3).
The stakes are high, as the winner of the game will top the group and play West Indies, the second-placed team from Group C, in the quarterfinal in Fatullah on February 8. In that context, the change of venue from Sylhet, where Pakistan and Sri Lanka won both their games against Afghanistan and Canada, to Mirpur could be critical.
Avishka Gunawardene, Sri Lanka’s assistant coach, however, gave the scheduling a positive twist.
“Looking at the bigger picture, it’s a good experience for these boys. Under-19 World Cup is all about getting experience,” said Gunawardene. “Yes, you come for a World Cup and try to win it but the bottom line is to groom these guys. You give them enough exposure, enough experience to go to the next level. So, I think shifting venues is a good learning experience. I look at it as a positive thing.”
The Sri Lankans, currently at the top of the table, are positive ahead of the game.
With India and Pakistan not playing frequently against each other, the contests between Sri Lanka and Pakistan have become the biggest rivalry in the subcontinent in the recent past. They have played 27 times against each other across formats since December 2013, with both notching up 13 wins each. From Pakistan’s thrilling victory in near darkness in the 2014 Sharjah Test to Rangana Herath’s wicket-taking spree to Younus Khan’s heroics in a record fourth-innings chase of 377 in the 2015 Pallekele Test, there have been many thrilling contests.
The Under-19 boys may not have played as frequently against each other, but Sri Lanka’s one-day series win and dominance in the two three-day games in a bilateral series at home against Pakistan in October last year will give it confidence.
“I and my team are confident about tomorrow because we have beaten them recently,” said Charith Asalanka, Sri Lanka’s captain.
Pakistan, though, would bank on its recent form, even if it is placed second on the table with a net run-rate of 1.232 compared to Sri Lanka’s 2.290.
Pakistan has been driven by Zeeshan Malik, the opener who is currently averaging 118 in the tournament, and Shadab Khan, the legspinner, who has six wickets. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, was hugely dependent on the skipper in the win against Afghanistan.
Asalanka’s 71, which included an onslaught on Rashid Khan, the international legspinner, came after Sri Lanka was 96 for 5. Then he took two wickets to give his team a tense 33-run win.
Gunawardene, however, brushed that off. “I don’t see any issues. We were 50 for no loss and suddenly the spinners came on. We knew the wicket was going to be difficult against the spinners and it is going to be slow and it is going to take some turn. All credit to Afghanistan. The two spinners bowled really well,” he said. “We fell short by 20 runs, that’s about it. Captain and vice-captain are in very good form. It’s just that the first three should give us a better start.”
If they address those issues, Asalanka’s boys could well keep their recent dominance over Pakistan going.
Pakistan: Gohar Hafeez (capt), Muhammad Asad, Saif Ali, Saif Badar, Sameen Gul, Salman Fayyaz, Shadab Khan, Hasan Khan, Irfan Liaqat, Hasan Mohsin, Umair Masood, Zeeshan Malik, Arsal Sheikh, Ahmad Shafiq. Mohammad Umar.
Sri Lanka: Charith Asalanka (capt), Sammu Ashan, Kaveen Bandara, Jehan Daniel, Avishka Fernando, Asitha Fernando, Wanidu Hasaranga, Lahiru Kumara, Kamindu Mendis, Charana Nanayakkara, Thilan Nimesh, Vishard Randika, Lahiru Samarakoon, Damitha Silva.