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Sri Lanka

Asia Cup team preview: Sri Lanka

Asia Cup 2018, feature

Five-time winners Sri Lanka are blessed with a real blend of young starlets and long-serving players, and combined with the return of legendary paceman Lasith Malinga, they might enter this year's Asia Cup campaign quietly confident.

Overview

Things hadn't looked so rosy for them in the 50-over format earlier this year after South Africa opened up a 3-0 lead in their five-match series, but Angelo Mathews' side experienced something of a resurgence, regaining the kind of form that saw them clean sweep the Proteas in the Test series, and claiming the final two one-day internationals to shorten the margin of defeat. 
 
Test skipper and ODI stalwart Dinesh Chandimal has withdrawn from the squad in a bid to speed up recovery on a finger injury, so Niroshan Dickwella has been drafted in and is expected to keep wicket in his place. Danushka Gunathilaka has been sent home too after a back problem ruled him out, and he has been replaced by all-rounder Shehan Jayasuriya.

Sri Lanka have a rich history of performing batsmen in the Asia Cup, with six of the top 10 highest scorers in the tournament's history hailing from the country, and legends Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara occupying first and second spots. They do not boast the kind of depth in the batting department that they have had in previous years, so the likes of Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera and Upul Tharanga will look to bear much of the responsibility in the absence of Chandimal and Gunathilaka, while Mathews will shore up the middle order. 

Going into this campaign, however, there will surely be more of a focus on their bowling unit. Veteran fast bowler Malinga's inclusion has excited many a cricket enthusiast, and he will likely spearhead a pace attack which boasts wily seamer Suranga Lakmal and promising youngster Kasun Rajitha, who impressed in recent series against the Windies and South Africa. 

The highly skilled Akila Dananjaya will play as Sri Lanka's premier spinner, and he has struck form at the right time, notching 6/29 in his last ODI against South Africa. All-rounder Dhananjaya de Silva will offer him support in the tweaking department, while fellow all-rounder Thisara Perera will provide a strong option with both bat and ball.

Sri Lanka last won the Asia Cup in 2014, which was the last time the tournament was in the 50-over format. While world-beaters Mahela Jayawardene and Sangakarra are no longer around to offer their wisdom and class, the likes of Malinga, the two Pereras, Mathews and Lakmal can look to draw from their winning experience to propel their otherwise youthful side to victory. In the MRF Tyres Men's ODI Team Rankings, they are in eighth, below fellow group B members Bangladesh, but if previous exploits in this competition are anything to go by, expect Sri Lanka to over-perform. 

Players to watch out for

It is hard to look past Lasith Malinga as Sri Lanka's player to keep an eye on, as he is simply so captivating to watch. His famous, slingy action and thirst for toe-crunching yorkers has been the comeuppance of many an established batsman over the years, and his return, following over a year's hiatus from international cricket, has many waiting on the edge of their seats. One only has to look back to the 2014 Asia Cup final to outline his importance – he took all five wickets as Sri Lanka restricted Pakistan to 260/5, before his side knocked off the runs with relative ease to secure the title. 

With 301 ODI wickets to his name and a phenomenal economy rate of just 5.31, Malinga will be a frightening prospect for Afghanistan and Bangladesh. If he is able to display his wicked death bowling antics in this year's Asia Cup, then we should expect Sri Lanka to make a real splash.

Akila Dananjaya, meanwhile, will likely be the most vital member of Sri Lanka's bowling unit. Tasked with bowling his side's crucial middle overs in ODI cricket, and with some pedigree at this level after a strong series against South Africa, he will need to squeeze opposition batsmen on the slow tracks in the United Arab Emirates. His dynamic and highly versatile bowling style combined with an excellent economy rate of 5.19 will be extremely useful in keeping the runs down.

History in the Asia Cup

Sri Lanka have won it five times – only India have won it on more occasions. They won it last in 2014, in Bangladesh.

Schedule

15 September: v Bangladesh

17 September: v Afghanistan

Squad

Angelo Mathews (c), Amila Aponso, Dushmantha Chameera, Akila Dananjaya, Niroshan Dickwella, Shehan Jayasuriya, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga, Kusal Mendis, Dilruwan Perera, Kusal Perera, Thisara Perera, Kasun Rajitha, Dasun Shanaka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Upul Tharanga 

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