Right at the end of a 14-minute long press conference that chaired all six captains and quite a full house of journalists, pop came the question that had Sarfraz Ahmed chuckling.
Seated to his right was Angelo Mathews, quizzed about the (in)famous previous meeting between the Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and whether that adds an ‘extra edge’ to Saturday’s game.
That fixture in question – the virtual semifinal of the Nidahas Trophy in Sri Lanka – had rather tense moments where Bangladesh even considered boycotting the chase. There was some finger waging from reserve player Nurul Hasan, and some post-match words were said that irked Kusal Mendis.
The situation didn’t turn for the worse, but it still had quite the potential to.
But the calm mindset that all captains had unanimously walked in with meant there wouldn’t be a quotable quote in response from the Sri Lankan captain. He expertly doused a potential fire with ‘past is past, we’ve got to move on’.
Sri Lanka could indeed do with a move on. Not just from the unsavoury events of that night in March, but their rut in coloured kits too. There’s no better time and occasion for their downward spiralling form in ODIs – that has brought them 29 defeats in 39 games since the start of 2017 – to take an upward diversion. Mathews & Co. can take a bit of heart from the way they ended the final ODI series before the multi-team event – at home against South Africa. After going down 0-3, a face-saving, pride-restoring comeback was made to leave with a respectable scoreline of 2-3.
Sri Lanka’s listless numbers make Bangladesh’s for that period look better than they actually are. They’ve played 22 games, winning just 9 of them, with their 10 defeats including their loss to Sri Lanka in the tri-series final in Dhaka earlier this year.
As they look past shoddy ODI form, both Sri Lanka and Bangladesh also have injury woes to deal with. Sri Lanka have already lost the services of Dinesh Chandimal and Danushka Gunathilaka, while Bangladesh sweat over Shakib, Tamim Iqbal and uncapped youngster Nazmul Hossain’s fitness – even as team manager Khaled Mahmud reckons his team won’t be hampered.
When: September 15, 2018, 3:30 PM Local time
Where: Dubai International Cricket Stadium, Dubai
What to expect: Survival of the hydrated, as temperatures are expected to hit 41 degrees during the piercingly sunny day and remain in the late 30s even at night.
Interestingly, Angelo Mathews named Kusal Mendis as an option to open the batting with Upul Tharanga, while also bringing up Kusal Perera. Mendis has played 39 of his 47 games at No.3, 7 at No.4 and one at 5, but has never opened the batting for Sri Lanka before. If this switch is to be made, then Niroshan Dickwella either moves down, or out of the final XI. For him, 28 of 41 innings have come opening the batting.
Test regular Dilruwan Perera is in with a chance to make his first ODI appearance since April 1, 2017 as Akila Dananjaya is away for the start of the tournament due to personal reasons. Mathews can also turn to left-arm spinner Amila Aponso and Shehan Jayasuriya – who replaced the injured Danushka Gunathilaka – to beef up his spin department.
Probable XI: Kusal Mendis, Upul Tharanga, Kusal Perera, Angelo Mathews, Dhananjaya de Silva, Thisara Perera, Dasun Shanaka, Shehan Jayasuriya/Amila Aponso, Dilruwan Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga/Dushmantha Chameera
Liton Das is back in the squad after nearly a year’s break and has the chance to cement his spot at the top of the order.
Probable XI: Tamim Iqbal, Liton Das, Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim, Mahmudullah, Mohammad Mithun, Mosaddek Hossain, Mashrafe Mortaza, Mehidy Hasan, Rubel Hossain, Mustafizur Rahman
What they said:
“Disappointing that Danushka had to go back. Bangladesh are a challenge for us and they have played well in the last 18 months. We need to overcome them and play well.” – Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews.
“I talked to Shakib in the morning. He said there is some pain, it’s swollen and a little bent. He also said that medication reduces the pain. I think the caliber of player Shakib is and the experience he has had, he has perhaps played many matches with such small injuries.” – Bangladesh team manager Khaled Mahmud.