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Pak start defense of Cup vs Sri Lanka Injuries mar Asia Cup

DHAKA, Bangladesh, Feb 24, (Agencies): Pakistan are determined to defend their trophy, but Sri Lanka’s captain Angelo Mathews remains optimistic as the two cricket giants face off in the opening match of the fivenation Asia Cup on Tuesday, in the run-up to the Twenty20 World Cup. Pakistan, which won the title in 2012, are aiming to put pressure on their opponents with a team balancing experienced players and newcomers. Both teams are focusing not just on the opening match but on the whole tournament. “We have played a lot against Pakistan and India,” Mathews told reporters at a news briefing on Monday. “We know them and they also know us.” “All the teams are even.

They will want to win the matches. We also would like to win. Hopefully there will be a really good competition,” he added. For Tuesday’s opening match at Fatullah, Sri Lanka has one thing in its favor — it played here a month ago against Bangladesh, winning two Tests, three one-day internationals and two Twenty20s. “I think we need to show more good performance to go further,” Mathews said. “We beat Bangladesh 3-0 — that doesn’t mean that it would be easier for us to win the Asia Cup. It will be a tough tournament and there will be huge challenges.” He continued, “The main challenge will be to tackle spinners successfully. All the teams have good spinners.” Pakistan’s skipper Misbah-ul-Haq said Sunday they are taking spirit from the series wins over Sri Lanka and South Africa, and will fight to defend the Asia Cup title. The team beat Bangladesh in the 2012 final.

While the team has several relatively inexperienced players including Sharjeel Khan, Sohaib Maqsood, Mohammad Talha, Bilawal Bhatti and Anwar Ali, it also has Misbah himself and Mohammad Hafeez, who will play the key role in batting. “Ahmed Shehzad has been part of our team for quite a while, he has been doing well,” Misbah said. “Sharjeel Khan had an average series, but he gave glimpses of being a good player, he can time the ball well. We are looking forward to seeing him develop into a good player,” he said.

He has faith in Sohaib Maqsood too. “Maqsood played well in South Africa and against Sri Lanka. With experienced players, a few youngsters like Anwar Ali and Bilawal Bhatti, they are putting together some good scores. I am happy that it is a good, balanced unit,” he said. The Pakistan skipper is not willing to take the Asia Cup tournament lightly, and is even serious about first-timer Afghanistan. “All teams have ability to win against any side,” he said. “It will be good competition. The last Asia Cup was witness of that: Bangladesh beat two big teams and they came close to us. You can expect any team can win against any team.

Injuries to star players, including India’s World Cup-winning captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, have taken the sheen off the Asia Cup which opens in Bangladesh on Tuesday.

New entrants Afghanistan appear the only injury-free side as the other four teams struggle to field their best players for the 11-match tournament, billed as the symbol of regional supremacy in the one-day region. Dhoni’s absence, due to a side strain suffered on the New Zealand tour which ended barely a week ago, leaves stand-in captain Virat Kohli without one of the world’s leading limited-overs players. “He is the reason why we have been very good in the one-day format in recent years,” Kohli said of Dhoni, who guided India to victory in the inaugural World Twenty20 in 2007 and the 2011 World Cup. “His not being there is a big change, but I am sure the other guys will make the most of the opportunity,” he told reporters in Dhaka. With Bangladesh also due to host the World Twenty20 next month, India are not the only side reluctant to take risks with injuries at the Asia Cup.

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