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Lots of spin in store for the Asian Cup opener

The 2022 edition of the Asian Cup is a golden trial opportunity for Asian teams ahead of the T20 World Cup in Australia. Neither Sri Lanka nor Afghanistan, the participants in the opening of the lungs, are among the favorites to lift the trophy Down Under. But both teams have a few cards up their sleeve in the battle of Asian greats in the UAE.

For starters, Sri Lanka haven’t won a T20I series in the last 12 months. But in the T20 World Cup last year, they showed their punch when their best team is assembled. It was on display again when after losing the T20I series to Australia, they came back to win the ODIs and level the Test series. Different formats, but Islanders battling through times of turmoil at home was heartwarming to see. All in all, they seem like a team on the rise, keen to leave the unproductive years behind them.

Afghanistan has risen above minnow status. There’s no side they haven’t pushed hard, especially in Asian conditions and truly deserve to be counted among the big boys. 10 years ago it would have been a strange thing to say, but the current Afghan team have more T20 experience than their Sri Lankan counterparts. Therefore, there is not much to separate between these two teams ahead of the Asian Cup season opener.

The Battle of the Spinners

Both sides are heavy on the spin bowling front. Both have maintained an economy of under 7 per plus with their spinners in T20 since 2021. Afghanistan picked wickets at 19.4 runs apiece while Sri Lanka at 22.1. With the amount of spin they play, these are great numbers.

At least five quality spinners are certain to play in this game. Rashid Khan and Wanindu Hasaranga are like isomers – versatile bowlers, major source of wickets, x-factors and excellent on the field. Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Maheesh Theekshana are also UNO reverse cards for each other, both in their skills and their use as power play specialists.

Theekshana gets the ball rolling in the power play for Sri Lanka and Hasaranga cashes in on the pressure. The Afghans, however, have an extra helping hand in the form of a misstep from Mohammad Nabi. Sri Lanka will have a few southpaws in their top five, which could increase the relevance of Nabi’s spell. And will they play left-arm spinner Noor Ahmad? There will be an abundance of spinners in this contest.

The Lankans can also field a three-man spin attack with the inclusion of Praveen Jayawickrama’s left spin option in front of a third player. Afghanistan has many right-handers in its batting order. Although it will cost them to play another tailor who specializes in the XI. Not to mention, they will have the option of Dhananjaya de Silva’s part-time off-spin, although he will be used when absolutely needed with the conditions permitted.

They can also play two leg spinners, including Jeffrey Vandersay.

Sri Lanka stick could give them the advantage

At Dushmantha Chameera, Sri Lanka lost the pinch in their pace department, leveling the two-pace attacks. The territory of rotation also cancels out. Therefore, the stick turns out to be the only point of difference going into this game. Among the Test nations, Sri Lanka has the second-lowest batting average in T20I since 2021 – 19.99.

Numbers speak differently, but a deeper dive will clear up the picture. Afghanistan have mostly faced lower-tier teams since 2021, while Sri Lanka have faced India, Australia and South Africa in the majority of their matches. The Islanders have been bruised by high-quality bowling attacks, but that experience separates them from the Afghan hitters.

Players like Pathum Nissanka, Dasun Shanaka and Charith Asalanka scored tough points this year. Afghanistan will rely heavily on Najibullah Zadran, their most productive hitter in 2022.

Key phase of the match

The first six overs of the Sri Lankan innings could be the key phase of the game. Sri Lanka hold the second lowest rush rate (6.6) and average (22.7) on the power play since 2021. The top Lankan order will face Mujeeb Ur Rahman in this phase, who has ace numbers with the new ball.

The duel between Pathum Nissanka, the young opener known for his solidity, and Mujeeb would be the one to watch. Nissanka has better numbers against powerplay spin than pace.

probable XIs

Sri Lanka: Danushka Gunathilaka, Pathum Nissanka (wk), Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Charith Asalanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Dasun Shanaka (c), Wanindu Hasaranga, Maheesh Theekshana, Chamika Karunaratne, Praveen Jayawickrama/Matheesha Pathirana, Dilshan Madushanka

Afghanistan: Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmanullah Gurbaz (wk), Ibrahim Zadran, Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi (c), Karim Janat, Rashid Khan, Azmatullah Omarzai/Noor Ahmad/Fareed Ahmad, Naveen-ul-Haq, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Mujeeb Ur Rahman