One eye on the prize, the other in the sky as India take on Sri Lanka in Asia Cup final

India

Big picture: Watch out for spin and rain

The continent’s crown jewel is on the line, but the two teams fighting for it come into the final with different motivations. India have not lifted any multi-team trophy since their Asia Cup win in 2018, and are desperate to know how that feels. Sri Lanka, ODI ranking No. 8, want to drill it in that despite making the ODI World Cup only through the qualifiers, they are more than just dark horses.
Hosts Sri Lanka possess the template to defeat India, because they very nearly did so last week. They had bowled India out for 213 – all ten wickets taken by spinners, including four by a part-time offspinner – and were favourites at the halfway stage. But their top-order let them down. Rattled by India’s pace, they could never really recover.
With a slow, turning surface expected for Sunday, Sri Lanka’s best bet would be to follow that bowling plan, topped up with a better batting show. Going their way is a strong performance in a challenging chase against Pakistan in the virtual semi-final, but that was a batting-friendly surface. They will sorely miss the injured Maheesh Theekshana, a wicket-taking threat at every stage of an ODI innings.
India come into the final on the back of a defeat, but with key players resting for the Bangladesh game, that result may not be of much significance. Every batter in their first XI has at least one big score while their bowlers look in great rhythm. Their balance, though, will be tested with the allrounder Axar Patel also ruled out with a hamstring niggle.

All that planning, though, will matter for very little if the weather doesn’t hold up. A shortened match or a washout are both possible since weather forecasts predict rain on Sunday (and Monday, the reserve day).

Form guide

India LWWWW (last five completed ODIs, most recent first)
Sri Lanka WLWWW

In the spotlight: Mendis, Thakur and Washington

Kusal Mendis has been enjoying a purple patch as Sri Lanka’s No. 3. With 253 runs in five games, he is the second-highest run-scorer of the series and his three fifties have come in wins over Pakistan (91), Bangladesh (50), and Afghanistan (92). A good score against India – ideally a century having been dismissed in the nineties twice – is the only thing missing from his Asia Cup 2023 CV.
Will Shardul Thakur or Washington Sundar be India’s No. 8? With Axar ruled out, India need to allocate his overs to someone else, preferably another spinner if the surface stays as expected. That makes Washington a favourite with his offbreaks a good match-up against Sri Lanka’s left-hand batters. But Washington only flew in from Bengaluru on Friday, and Shardul has been in Sri Lanka all along, making key contributions with the ball. India have an important call to make on match day.

Team news: Tilak in the final for India?

If India go with Thakur at No. 8, then Tilak Varma could be selected for his role as a third spin-bowling option.

India (probable): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Shubman Gill, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 KL Rahul (wk), 5 Ishan Kishan/Tilak Varma, 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Shardul Thakur/Washington Sundar, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Mohammed Siraj, 11 Jasprit Bumrah

For Sri Lanka, legspinner Dushan Hemantha is the favourite to replace Theekshana. They could also bring in allrounder Sahan Arachchige, but Hemantha has stronger bowling credentials. Kusal Perera should keep his place in the XI.

Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Kusal Perera, 2 Pathum Nissanka, 3 Kusal Mendis (wk), 4 Sadeera Samarawickrama, 5 Charith Asalanka, 6 Dhananjaya de Silva, 7 Dasun Shanaka (capt), 8 Dunith Wellalage, 9 Dushan Hemantha, 10 Matheesha Pathirana, 11 Kasun Rajitha

Pitch and conditions: Plenty for the bowlers

This will be the sixth match in nine days at the R Premadasa Stadium, so a slow, turning surface is on the cards. However, the expected wet conditions could play a factor in how much the ball actually turns.

Stats and trivia: Win toss, bat first

“Winning the [Asia Cup] final is very important for us because we need to create a winning habit. Peaking at the right time and gaining momentum at the right time is important.”
India batter Shubman Gill after Friday’s Super Four game against Bangladesh

“The boys want to deliver for the country. As a team, we have been underdogs. Everyone wants to perform at the bigger stage and these youngsters need to show the world what they are capable of. That’s the secret of this young team.”
Sri Lanka captain Dasun Shanaka on his team’s motivation

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