Sri Lanka are set to kickstart their Asia Cup 2016 campaign against qualifier United Arab Emirates (UAE) at the Shere Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur, Dhaka, Thursday.
The Lankan Lions do not come into the Asia Cup in great form. Sri Lanka suffered defeats to India and New Zealand in their last two T20 series. Sri Lanka missed their star players such as Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara, Angelo Mathews and Rangana Herath during the India series, but the Asia Cup squad includes the quartet, which makes them a huge force in the competition.
Irrespective of the record they possess of late, they are a massive threat in the Asia Cup for all the teams in the competition, as they possess some big names in their team. Their record in the competition is brilliant, winning the title five times in the past.
Sri Lanka should not have much trouble in getting past UAE. The Islanders have a balanced squad with a decent mix of senior players and youngsters in the team. Youngster Dushmantha Chameera was the most impressive bowler for Sri Lanka in the T20 series against India, and it remains to be seen if he keeps his place in the XI, following the arrivals of Malinga and Kulasekara.
Apart from the seamers, Sri Lanka have an experienced slow bowler in the form of Herath, who is expected to play an important role in the turning tracks of Bangladesh. The UAE batsmen could be in lots of trouble if the slow left-arm delivers his A-game.
Sri Lanka possess a decent batting lingup, with Tilakratne Dilshan holding the key at the top of the order. Captain Malinga will ask his best most experienced batsman -- Dilshan -- to come up with a great performance in the Asia Cup.
Chamara Kapugedera and Dinesh Chandimal will play an important role in the middle order, while Sri Lanka will also look into the big-hitting exploits of Mathews and Thisara Perera.
UAE will be under no pressure to perform in the Asia Cup. Their main objective was to qualify for the competition and they have done so, defeating teams like Afghanistan, Oman and Hong Kong. They will play pressure-free cricket and just enjoy the moment. Victory against any of the teams in the Asia Cup will be a bonus.
UAE resemble a weaker unit when compared to Sri Lanka, but the former are a confident side after putting up some emphatic performances in the Asia Cup qualifiers. UAE will depend on their batsmen, as they possess some wonderful players in the top order, including Rohan Mustafa, Mohammad Shahzad and Muhammad Usman.
Their bowling may look a little weaker, but their pacer Mohammad Naveed will lead the attack with the new ball and can prove to be a threat. If Naveed gets his line and length right, he can trouble the Lankan batsman and make early inroads. Naveed was the highest wickettaker for UAE during the qualifiers, picking up seven wickets.
One look at both the teams for Thursday's clash suggests Sri Lanka to be clear favourites, but they cannot afford to take UAE for granted.
Team squad: Sri Lanka: Lasith Malinga (C), Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Angelo Mathews, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Niroshan Dickwella, Shehan Jayasuriya, Milinda Siriwardana, Nuwan Kulasekara, Dushmantha Chameera, Thisara Perera, Dasun Shanaka, Chamara Kapugedera, Sachithra Senanayake, Rangana Herath, Jeffrey Vandersay.
UAE: Amjad Javed (C), Swapnil Patil (wk), Ahmed Raza, Fahad Tariq, Farhan Ahmed, Mohammad Naveed, Mohammad Shahzad, Mohammad Usman, Muhammad Kaleem, Qadeer Ahmed, Rohan Mustafa, Saqlain Haider, Shaiman Anwar, Usman Mushtaq, Zaheer Maqsood
Sri Lanka vs UAE schedule:
Date: Thursday, 25 February
Time: 7.30 pm IST (7 p.m. local time, 5:30 p.m GST, 1.30 p.m. GMT, 8.30 a.m. ET) start
Venue: Shere Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur, Dhaka
TV listings: India: Star Sports 1, Star Sports HD1 (English commentary), Star Sports 3, Star Sports HD3 (Hindi commentary). Sri Lanka: MTV Sports and Star network. UAE: OSN Sports Cricket. Bangladesh: Star network and Channel 9. Pakistan: Geo Super, PTV and Star network.