Asia Cup 2018: Jayawardene expects Afghanistan to add more spice to tournament
Expect Afghanistan to pull off at least two surprises this tournament. (Getty Images)

Former Sri Lanka batsman Mahela Jayawardene feels the addition of Afghanistan will add more flavour to the Asia Cup 2018. Afghanistan were part of the 2014 edition where they sprung in a surprise win over Bangladesh, and after failing to qualify for the 2016 edition, greater things will be expected of them this time around.

Writing in his column for the Times of India, Jayawardene pointed out that competing in a tournament that features the giants of the sub-continents will go a long way in the continuous growth of Afghanistan in world cricket.

“The Asia Cup has played an important role in the development of cricket in Asia and this year’s tournament in the UAE has even more spice by the emergence of a fifth major force in the region, Afghanistan, a team full of street-smart mystery. The tournament has played a really valuable role in providing a platform for the emergence of new talent,” Jayawardene wrote.

That said, Jayawardene obviously expects Sri Lanka to do well and is eager to see how the youngsters respond in a competitive tournament such as this. Sri Lanka will be captained by experienced campaigner Angelo Mathews, and despite injuries to certain key players, they have the strength that can take the team all the way.

“For me, it was the stunning arrival of Ajantha Mendis back in 2008 in Pakistan, where he bamboozled all opponents with his unique style. I am confident we will see some new stars emerge this time, too,” Jayawardene, who played 149 Tests and 448 ODIs for Sri Lanka, said.

He is also excited of the fact that the Asia Cup will see India and Pakistan lock horns for the first time since the Champions Trophy last year. The two teams will face each other and even though Virat Kohli has been rested, the battle between India’s batting and Pakistan’s bowling promises to deliver yet another memorable match. To top that, India and Pakistan can play each other a total of three times in the tournament, including the final, the possibility of which are high.

“The tournament is of course special also because it’s one of the few occasions when we get to witness the spectacle and drama of an India-Pakistan contest,” Jayawardene said. “It’s always a mouth-watering one and millions will be looking forward to the big game next Wednesday. Both teams are probably also the favourites going into the tournament, although it remains an open competition by virtue of the fact that no team is dominating away from home right now.

“India, even without Virat Kohli, have some formidable players and a great balance. Pakistan, meanwhile, always have that X-factor. They have the greater experience of UAE conditions. It being their second home for the past decade but that won’t be an overwhelming advantage as conditions will be familiar for all teams. Pakistan can draw upon their fast bowlers, as they have done historically. They have form in multination tournaments, having won the last ICC Champions Trophy.”

Sri Lanka take on Bangladesh in the opener later today.