After two comfortable wins on the trot against Nepal and Thailand, Sri Lanka now face an uphill task of beating defending champions India in the bid to keep their final hopes alive at the business end of the 2016 ACC Women’s Asia Cup T20 in Bangkok.
Even though there remain a host of other possibilities, mathematically speaking, one wouldn’t bet their money on underdogs Nepal and Thailand staging an upset later against India and Pakistan respectively. And that makes the afternoon clash on Thursday (December 1) at the AIT Cricket Ground against the five-time champions a virtual knock-out for Hasini Perera-led Sri Lanka, who have already lost their league game to second-placed Pakistan by eight-wicket margin.
Sri Lanka, four-time runners-up to India when the tournament was played in the 50-over format, didn’t have an ideal start to the tournament as Pakistan got the better of them in a sensitive chase. However, the fact that they made a stronger opponent work hard for their runs would give them a lot of confidence facing India’s star-studded line-up.
Sri Lanka brought their campaign back on the track with back to back wins against the two non-international sides in the competition. What they also got right was a big victory margin in both games that helped them with a better net run rate, should it matter in the end.
“We wanted to win (against Thailand) with big margin to stay in the hunt and we’ve done that. Hopefully, its sufficient,” Perera, the Sri Lankan captain, told Cricbuzz on Wednesday. “(Against India) it is a must-win game for us to make it to the finals. We are preparing well. We’ll try to do less mistakes on the field,” she added.
An afternoon start means the pitch will offer ample assistance to the batters and Sri Lanka will be buoyed by the fact that their top-order, and especially the destructive all-rounder Chamari Athapaththu, has got some runs under their belt in these conditions already. Their bowlers too, especially spinners Inoka Ranaweera and Sugandika Kumari, have been at the forefront picking wickets very consistently.
However, on the flip side, they are up against not only the best team in the competition’s short history, but also the one that is so far unbeaten in this edition.
“We need to improve on our fielding especially; and we also need to work on how to rotate strike more (efficiently). It is definitely not going to be easy against India’s (bowling),” said the skipper who led from the front with a quick half-century to set up the 75-run win against Nepal on Wednesday.
“We know some of them (India’s batters) are really good. We have plans for them, yes. We are preparing our best to tackle them,” Perera added when asked about strategy to counter the high-flying Indian batting line-up.
Unchallenged thus far in the tournament, apart from a narrow win against arch-rivals Pakistan in a low-scoring thriller, India have all boxes ticked in the lead up to the final. They began their title defense with a comprehensive 64-run win against Bangladesh before their lop-sided contest against hosts Thailand. That Pakistan contained them for the better part of their chase bodes well for the team who would be looking to plug all gaps before the title clash they are most likely to feature in.
Despite being nearly assured of a berth in what will be a sixth straight final for them, Harmanpreet Kaur, the Indian captain, is not writing off their opposition just yet. “I don’t think they are weak at all,” she told Cricbuzz after guiding India to a five-wicket win over Pakistan. “They have good hitters in their side and their spin department is also quite strong. They have decent medium pacers also, and they can bowl on spot which is very important in T20 cricket. I hope it is a good, tough game. We would not take them lightly, we’ll fight hard and give our best irrespective of the opposition.”
That cautionary tone is backed by the memories of an incredible upset at the 2014 ICC Women’s World Twenty20 when India faltered in a moderate chase of 129 to surrender by 22 runs. Sri Lanka would be hoping for a repeat, despite being blanked by India 3-0 in their bilateral fixtures earlier this year. India, nonetheless, would be cautious to not let another slip up cost them dear in the long run.
India’s head to head record against Sri Lanka in the T20Is stands at 7-3 in eleven games, one of which was abandoned. Even as the Harmanpreet-led side are tipped to clinch their sixth straight trophy, they would know better than to underestimate the surprise element from any of the international teams in the foray. That Sri Lanka have proven they can be a match for the best of sides on their day, will keep India on their toes, for there is very less margin for error and comeback in the game’s briefest format.
Apart from a handful of loyal fans who have turned up at every game to support their side, also in attendance for the Thursday’s encounter will be the Indian Ambassador in Bangkok, Bhagwant Singh Bishnoi. While the scorching heat and humidity had been taking a toll on the players thus far, rain – rather brief and unpredictable spells of light showers, as per the locals – could play a spoilsport.
India: Harmanpreet Kaur (Captain), Ekta Bisht, Jhulan Goswami, Mansi Joshi, Veda Krishnamurthy, Smriti Mandhana, Meghna Singh, Shikha Pandey, Anuja Patil, Poonam Yadav, Nuzhat Parween, Preeti Bose, Mithali Raj, Vellaswamy Vanitha, Sushma Verma.
Sri Lanka: Hasini Perera (Captain), Prasadani Weerakkody, Chamari Atapattu, Sripali Weerakkody, Sugandika Kumari, Dilani Manodara, Nilakshi de Silva, Nipuni Hansika, Inoka Ranaweera, Oshadi Ranasinghe, Eshani Lokusuriyage, Yasoda Mendis, Hansima Karunaratne, Ama Kanchana, Udeshika Prabodhani.