It's only fitting that a tournament as entertaining as the 2022 Asia Cup comes down to a clash between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The two teams have produced moments of sheer magic over the course of the competition, with the finale all set to take place at the Dubai International Stadium on Sunday, September 11.
Naseem Shah's opening burst against India in the group stage signaled the start of the most entertaining phase of the Asia Cup. The young Pakistan quick also had the final say on the Super 4 stage as he belted Afghanistan's Fazalhaq Farooqi for consecutive sixes in the last over to ace a low-scoring chase. In between, Mohammad Rizwan scored a mountain of runs, Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz aced the spin-bowling all-rounder's role to perfection, and the team's pace battery instilled fear in all the opposition they faced.
Sri Lanka, on the other hand, have defied all the odds to go from the team predicted to finish at the bottom of the Super 4 stage to the team that topped the table with wins over the much more fancied India and Pakistan. Before that, they danced their way to a thrilling win over rivals Bangladesh. Captain Dasun Shanaka has led from the front, openers Pathum Nissanka and Kusal Mendis have been terrific at the top, and the bowling unit has improved considerably with every outing.
Just two days before the final, Sri Lanka cruised past a Pakistan side that was without Shadab and Naseem. They did enough in the Super 4 stage to even be labeled favorites for the summit clash, but Babar Azam and Co. will have a few things to say about that on Sunday. Can the Lankans add a sixth Asia Cup trophy to their cabinet? Or will Pakistan exact their revenge?
Asia Cup 2022: Pakistan eye continental crown; potential bogey team Sri Lanka stand in their way
Pakistan are winless in their last four T20Is against Sri Lanka. Three of those came back in 2019, and the Men in Green have since spent some time in the No. 1 position on the ICC T20I team rankings. But the Lankans are emerging as a potential bogey team, riding on the exploits of Wanindu Hasaranga.
Hasaranga has enjoyed immense success against Pakistan, scalping three wickets in the previous game with a lovely concoction of subtle leg-spinners and vicious googlies. With Maheesh Theekshana being capable of bowling at any stage of the innings and Dhananjaya de Silva walking into the side to give them an extra spin option, Sri Lanka could choke a Pakistan middle order that has quite a few issues against spin.
To get out of the middle-overs muddle, Nawaz and Shadab have been promoted up the order. But when push comes to shove, can the likes of Iftikhar Ahmed and Khushdil Shah come up with the goods? Can Babar overcome his miserable form - he registered his highest score of the tournament (30) against Sri Lanka in the last game - to give Rizwan some support? Can Fakhar Zaman finally get going and live up to his reputation of being a big-match player?
You never know what you're going to get with Pakistan, but at least they'll welcome two of their most important players back in Shadab and Naseem. Sri Lanka's top order was harried by the pace and bounce of Haris Rauf and Mohammad Hasnain, and Naseem will only make the pace attack more threatening.
The Asia Cup final could come down to Pakistan vs Hasaranga. Sri Lanka's pace attack is decent but fairly inexperienced, and if Babar and Co. can negotiate Hasaranga without losing too many wickets, they could be in an excellent position to clinch the continental crown.
The toss shouldn't have this big a say in a game, but it does. The chasing team will have a massive advantage in Dubai, and Sri Lanka have been mightily lucky with the coin so far. Will Shanaka's luck run out in the final, of all games? Probability dictates that it might.
The 2022 Asia Cup final is practically impossible to call, but Pakistan - even though they might not be the favorites - could end up on the winning side.
Prediction: Pakistan to win the Asia Cup 2022 final
Poll : Who will win the 2022 Asia Cup?