Dambulla: India get a chance to make amends for recent debacles, climb up the ODI rankings and break a 15-year jinx in the Asia Cup which takes off on Tuesday with home favourites Sri Lanka facing the ever-so-unpredictable Pakistan in the opening match here.
Four-time champions India, who come here after twin debacles in the Twenty20 World Cup and the recent tri-series in Zimbabwe, last won the title 15 years ago in the United Arab Emirates and will open their campaign on June 16 against Bangladesh.
Before that, with a hat-trick of titles in sight, Sri Lanka would look to exploit the home conditions against Pakistan at the Rangiri Dambulla ground on Tuesday.
Considering the fact that Sri Lanka won the title in the previous two editions, the hosts are slight favourites over the others in the four-nation tournament.
The tournament opener between Sri Lanka and Pakistan holds promise as on paper both the teams are equally matched in terms of potential, though the buoyant hosts have the more experienced players, who have a reputation of being devastating in their own backyard.
The inclusion of wily off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, who recovered from an injury sustained during the Twenty20 World Cup, has strengthened the Kumar Sangakkara-led Sri Lankan side.
Even though both Sri Lanka and Pakistan made it to the semifinals of the Twenty20 World Cup in the West Indies, the hosts will draw confidence from their recent tri-series victory in Zimbabwe.
Like India, Sri Lanka too had fielded a second string team in Zimbabwe, but the Lankan young guns rose to the occasion to come out triumphant in the tri-series.
What would be a morale-booster for Sri Lanka is dashing Tillakratne Dilshan’s return to form.
Leading a young side in the tri-series, Dilshan made a rollicking return to form with a delectable century in the title clash against hosts Zimbabwe.
To add to it, Sri Lanka would be bolstered by the return of regular skipper Sangakkara and senior batsman Mahela Jayawardene, who has been in sublime form this season.
If Dilshan and Jayawardene combine well at the top of the order, it could spell trouble for Pakistan who had last won the title in 2000 in Bangladesh.
The 21-year-old Angelo Mathews will be another Sri Lankan to watch out for over the next two weeks as the quality all-rounder seeks to prove his supremacy in the biennial event.
Mathews has the ability to turn the match on its head with either bat or ball, which reflected in his performances over the last eight months.
However, the likes of Thilina Kandamby and Thilan Samaraweera will be under little pressure to perform, especially after their below-par performance in Zimbabwe.
What might work wonders for the Lankans in the tournament is the presence of a three-pronged varied spin attack in Muralitharan, Suraj Randiv and Rangana Herath in the bowler-friendly Dambulla wicket.
Pakistan, on the other hand, have this uncanny knack of coming back stronger from every controversy they stumble upon.
However, what remains to be seen is the chemistry between newly-appointed captain Shahid Afridi and coach Waqar Younis.
It will be a test of character for Afridi to unite the team which has a history of dressing room problems and the return of former captain Shoaib Malik, seen as a trouble maker, will only make his job difficult.
The tournament is also seen as a last-gasp chance for veteran Shoaib Akhtar to revive his chequered career after the maverick fast bowler was included in the squad along with controversial pace colleague Mohammad Asif.
The talismanic Akhtar, who can hurl the ball at speeds over 150 kmph when in his elements, returns to international cricket after a long hiatus, forced by injuries and disciplinary issues.
But the Afridi-led Pakistan can never be written off as they have the potential to bounce back like wounded tigers when they are pushed to the wall.
Though Afridi lamented that he was not given the right team for the Twenty20 World Cup, Pakistan came up with stunning performances to make it to the last four stage in the Caribbean.
The Pakistan team have exciting batsmen in Akmal brothers – Kamran and Umar, Salman Butt, Imran Farhat and Malik, who recently tied the know with Indian tennis ace Sania Mirza.
Even though Pakistan have two senior pacers in Akhtar and Asif in the team, the bowling attack will be lead by young left-arm pacer Mohammad Aamer.
Pakistan: Shahid Afridi (capt), Salman Butt, Abdul Razzaq, Abdur Rehman, Asad Shafiq, Imran Farhat, Kamran Akmal, Mahammad Aamer, Mohammad Asif, Saaed Ajmal, Shahzaib Hassan, Shoaib Akthar, Shoaib Mallik, Umar Akmal, Umar Amin.
Sri Lanka: Kumar Sangakarra (capt), Muttiah Muralitharan, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Rangana Herath, Mahela Jayawardene, Suraj Ranjiv, Thilina Kamdamby, Chamara Kapugedara, Nuwan Kulasekara, Parvez Maroof, Lasith Mallinga, Angelo Mathews, Thilan Samaweera, Upul Tharanga, Chanaka Welegedara.