By Rabbil Sikdar
It is hard to look at the Asia Cup’s history and then feel justified in calling Sri Lanka either the dark horses or one of the underdogs. As five-time winners of the tournament, they have an illustrious pedigree that reflects their capacity to repeatedly punch above their weight.
At most, Sri Lanka is the most intriguing proposition in this tournament because of what they could do. It’s definitively harder to pinpoint Sri Lanka’s finish as it is for the others. There is an agreement on where India and Pakistan will finish and who won't advance to the finals. But Sri Lanka is the unknown variable because it is impossible to predict with safety.
Sri Lanka is deemed to be better than the rest but not one of the best. They struggle when up against the top teams, but they hardly ever make their fans feel ashamed of how they performed in competitions. They have, after all, won both in both World Cup formats and have an illustrious history in the Asia Cup. But lately, it’s been a mixed story. This is the tale of their recent performances in major ICC competitions across Asia and World Cups.
Sri Lanka last won the Asia Cup in 2014 but since then, has failed to qualify out of the group stages. In 2018’s Asia Cup, they finished bottom in a group containing Bangladesh and Afghanistan, which happens to be their group again, highlighting why it’s difficult to make bold statements about Sri Lanka. In the two previous World Cups, they’ve beaten those they expected to defeat and lost to everyone they were supposed to fall short again.
In essence, Sri Lanka appears as a nation aware of the ceiling on its potential. Sometimes they can punch through and reach stardom, but these are few and far between. They have lately become a challenging opposition but little else. The team has lost the legendary Lasith Malinga, whose incredible bowling style induced terror. Their form recently hasn’t suggested a team gathering momentum. They defeated Australia in an ODI series but have fallen short against India, Pakistan, and Australia. With a World Cup also around the corner, it’s difficult to see where Sri Lanka has been signposting that they are geared for a significant run at two trophies this calendar year.
So how far are they likely to go in the Asia Cup?
The answer is probably not far. Sri Lanka should qualify out of their group, but the form is not their friend. And it would not be beyond the realms of possibility should they lose to Afghanistan and Bangladesh. For them to win the entire thing, it would require performances of perfection in every game. Sri Lanka cannot afford a slump in form against anyone otherwise, they will go out. They also know that even their best may not be enough. Anything can happen. Sri Lanka will likely make the final group and finish third, but they won’t dazzle anyone. Those days seem well in the past.
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