Colombo: Captain Kumar Sangakkara challenged his team to fill the void left by absence of 2008 heroes Sanath Jayasuriya and Ajantha Mendis as Sri Lanka bid to retain the Asia Cup trophy on home soil.
While India will be keen to experiment following a disappointing tour of Zimbabwe and Pakistan want to show a united front after recent upheavals, Sangakkara wants his men to live up to their favourite billing just eight months before the 2011 World Cup.
“The Asia Cup 2008 final was won by two exceptional performances. One was Sanath’s freakish hundred when we were about 60-4 and when we were defending a score of 274, Ajantha Mendis came and took six for 13,” Sangakkara told reporters on the eve of their opening match against Pakistan.
“Today we don’t have either of them in our squad but that gives the opportunity for the rest of the players in the squad.”
The trio of Asia powerhouses are joined by Bangladesh in the June 15-24 tournament.
With Sri Lanka co-hosting the World Cup with India and Bangladesh, organisers hope fans will not shun the matches like they did when the previous edition was held in Pakistan.
Two years after the players were forced to contest the matches in the energy sapping heat of June and July, they will be hoping for more pleasant conditions as all the games take place under lights in the central Sri Lankan town of Dambulla.
Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi has the task of making sure the team gel after the fallout from their Australia tour.
Former captain Shoaib Malik is back in the side after successfully appealing against a 12-month ban imposed for misconduct during the trip to Australia this year.
His relationship with Afridi will also be under scrutiny since the captain once accused him of ‘back-biting’. To add further spice to the line-up, controversial fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar has been recalled after spending a year in the wilderness for fitness and disciplinary problems.
Afridi was confident his team would forget their troubled past when they are on the pitch.
“We are well focused to play good cricket and give a good account of ourselves,” said Afridi.
India will want to make amends for their disappointing performance in Zimbabwe, where they failed to qualify for the final of the one-day tri-series.
“It’s not very tough we’ve been in situations like this more than once. We are fresh and most of the guys have got decent time off cricket and most of the senior guys were rested from the Zimbabwe tour. It will depend a lot on the performance the way we play,” captain MS Dhoni said.
“We have never played a tournament without being under pressure. Even if we are the underdogs or the team most likely to win then also we are under pressure.
“We have to cope with pressure hundreds of times. It is good to have all the senior players back.”