It was a nothing game for Bangladesh. Beyond making a statement ahead of the final, there was little to gain and little to lose. That is no excuse for their monster defeat on Thursday, but perhaps it explains why so little fight was evident. So good had Bangladesh been in the first three matches, however, that Sri Lanka will know the trophy will not come so easy; they will have to scrap for it.
Where only a few years ago teams preparing to play Sri Lanka would target the big-ticket batsmen – Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene – the Sri Lanka of 2018 find themselves faced with a similar challenge. If they can neutralise Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim, the match is half-won. That is, however, a big if. The leaner, meaner Tamim, in particular, has enjoyed batting against Sri Lanka since 2012. Of his last seven scores against Sri Lanka, two have been hundreds, and two others have been half-centuries. Shakib, Mushfiqur and Mashrafe Mortaza have memorable recent performances against Sri Lanka as well.
How Bangladesh are to neutralise Sri Lanka is a more vexed question. There is no formula to Sri Lanka’s cricket at the moment. Even they don’t really know where their strengths and weaknesses lie. Some days – as on Thursday – they are incandescent, blasting out oppositions for meagre scores, before mowing down the target with the bat. Other days, they are given to dramatic implosions, and slapstick fielding. Perhaps the following sums up their state: Sri Lanka’s most consistent player of the tournament has been Thisara Perera – a player whose inconsistency has been the most frustrating feature of his career.
Unusually for a series in South Asia, the quicks have been more effective than the slow bowlers – only two spinners featuring among the top nine tournament wicket-takers. Between Mashrafe Mortaza, Mushfiqur Rahim and Rubel Hossain, Bangladesh appear to have the better seam attack. To outshine them, Sri Lanka’s attack must find the magic they did on Thursday.
Sri Lanka WWLLLL (completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
He has a habit of hitting hundreds in big tournaments, but Mahmudullah‘s recent form has been a little more modest. He has scores of 24, 2 and 7 in this tournament, and did not hit a half century across three innings in South Africa either. If, as Sri Lanka hope, Bangladesh’s three senior-most batsmen stutter, it is Mahmudullah who is best-placed to lead a recovery. With his offspin now rarely called upon, there is pressure on Mahmudullah to produce more consistently with the bat.
Almost by default, Suranga Lakmal has become the leader of Sri Lanka’s attack, and though there are signs that he is living up to the title, Lakmal has also tended to go wicketless in too many outings. He claimed 4 for 13 in the first ODI against India, for example, but did not take a wicket in the two subsequent games. He received a Player-of-the-Match award for his 3 for 21 on Thursday, but had not made a breakthrough in the preceding two games. Increasingly a tone-setting bowler for Sri Lanka, early wickets from Lakmal often bodes well for the remainder of the attack.
Imrul Kayes has been drafted into the squad, which suggests he will open the batting in place of Anamul Haque, who struggled in the last two games.
Bangladesh : 1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Imrul Kayes, 3 Shakib Al Hasan, 4 Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), 5 Mahmudullah, 6 Sabbir Rahman, 7 Nasir Hossain, 8 Abul Hasan, 9 Mashrafe Mortaza (capt), 10 Mustafizur Rahman, 11 Rubel Hossain.
With Kusal Perera and Nuwan Pradeep unlikely to be available again, Sri Lanka may field an unchanged XI for the final.
Sri Lanka: 1 Danushka Gunathilaka, 2 Upul Tharanga, 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 5 Dinesh Chandimal (capt.) 6 Asela Gunaratne, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Akila Dananjaya, 9 Suranga Lakmal, 10 Lakshan Sandakan, 11 Dushmantha Chameera
Pitch and conditions
The weather is expected to be cloudy but dry in Mirpur, with temperatures in the mid-20 degrees range. Pitches have been unpredictable in this series, so teams may prefer to bat first.
Stats and trivia
Bangladesh have once met Sri Lanka in a tournament final – in a tri-nation series featuring the same teams in 2009, also played in Bangladesh. Sri Lanka won that final by two wickets.
Tamim, Shakib and Mushfiqur are first, third and sixth on the tournament run-scorers’ table respectively. Each of them averages at least 40 – Tamim going at 83 per dismissal.
Sri Lanka has been one of Mahmudullah’s least-favourite opponents. He has played 19 innings against them (second only to the 25 he has played against Zimbabwe), and averages only 20.87.
Thisara Perera has thrice taken three wickets over the past two months. Only once had he taken a three-wicket haul in the three preceding years (going back to December 2014).
Mustafizur Rahman needs one more dismissal to complete 50 wickets in ODIs. If he gets it in this match, he will be the eighth fastest bowler to the milestone (alongside Curtly Ambrose and Rashid Khan, among others), and by a distance the fastest Bangladesh bowler.
“We need to be competitive first of all. The good result will come from that.”
Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chandimal
“The message to everyone in the team has been to remain positive despite the loss on Thursday. If we let this result get us down, it will affect us in the final.”
Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza