Last year around this time, Sri Lanka created history in UAE. Pakistan had been unbeaten since the gulf region had become their adopted home in 2010 and Sri Lanka put an end to it with a comprehensive 2-0 series win. That was in Test cricket and Sri Lanka could not replicate the same form in ODIs suffering an embarrassing 5-0 whitewash. That was their third 5-0 thrashing that year.
What improvements Sri Lanka have made since then will be known during the Asia Cup tournament with Angelo Mathews' side taking on Bangladesh in the curtain-raiser of the competition on Saturday.
Two prominent players who were missing from their last trip to UAE have returned to the side. Angelo Mathews missed the tour due to injury while Lasith Malinga was axed.
Malinga, who turned 35 last month, has not represented Sri Lanka in any form of cricket for over a year now. The fast bowler could have made a comeback during the tri-nation Nidahas Trophy tournament in March but he was ineligible having not played domestic cricket. He was overlooked for the recent home series against South Africa as well and was only picked after making himself available for the SLC T20 league that ended a fortnight ago.
Only four Sri Lankans have claimed 300 wickets in ODIs and Malinga is the only active player. So his experience is vital for the team. However, since making a comeback in June last year after a knee injury, Malinga had struggled with his form and fitness. Since his return, Malinga managed just ten wickets in 13 ODIs at an average of 62, way above his career average of 28.
But Sri Lanka's head coach Chandika Hathurusingha believes that the premier bowler is fitter than when he initially turned up for training in January ahead of Hathurusingha's maiden assignment.
While Malinga's return is expected to add value to the side, Sri Lanka will be without the services of Akila Dananjaya, who has emerged as their main match winner in recent times. The off-spinner, who picked career-best figures of six for 28 in his last game, will be forced to skip Sri Lanka's both opening-round matches as his wife is expected to give birth to the couple's first child in a few days time. He has been replaced by 36-year-old off-spinner Dilruwan Perera, who has not played an ODI since April 2017.
Fast bowler Dushmantha Chameera also makes a return after being sidelined for six months due to a hamstring injury. Middle-order batsman Dhananjaya de Silva, who nursed a side strain has been declared fit.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Dinesh Chandimal was ruled out after fracturing his right middle finger during a domestic game last month. He has been replaced by Niroshan Dickwella.
Opening batsman Danushka Gunathilaka also makes a comeback to the side since serving a six-match suspension after breaching team curfew.
With Sri Lanka avoiding second-ranked India and fifth-placed Pakistan, they should make it to the Super Four stage. After their opening game on Saturday, Sri Lanka will take on Afghanistan two days later in Abu Dhabi.
Sri Lanka are currently ranked eighth in the world and their predicament in shorter format is understandable with none of their players featuring among the top 20 batters or bowlers in the ICC Rankings.
Inability to bat through the 50 overs and lack of fire-power in making most of the Powerplay overs have been Sri Lanka's Achilles heel. With Kusal Perera set to exploit the opening Powerplay and then Thisara Perera and Dasun Shanka expected to make most of the fielding restrictions in the slog overs, things could change.
But Sri Lanka have a long way to go to compete with tournament favourites India, who seem to have all bases covered despite the absence of their skipper Virat Kohli.
Fielding has been another area that has been a massive drawback and the five-time Asia Cup champions and former World Champions start off the campaign as the competition's worst fielding unit. These are obviously things that the coaching staff are not pleased with and there has been a genuine effort to address these issues.
Apart from winning a tri-nation series in Bangladesh earlier this year, Sri Lanka have nothing much to boast of having failed to reach the finals of the tri-nation T20 Nidahas Trophy in March conducted to celebrate country's 70th independence anniversary. Last month South Africa beat them in a five-match ODI series with two games to spare.
Injuries have been a major concern for Sri Lanka in recent times and for the first time in several months, they have had most of their players fit and available. Whether their ODI fortunes changes remains to be seen.
Sri Lanka squad: Angelo Mathews (Captain), Kusal Perera, Kusal Mendis, Upul Tharanga, Danushka Gunathilake, Thisara Perera, Dasun Shanaka, Dhanajaya de Silva, Akila Dhananjaya, Dilruwan Perera, Amila Aponso, Kasun Rajitha, Suranga Lakmal, Dusmantha Chameera, Lasith Malinga and Niroshan Dickwella.
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The tournament is scheduled in Patna from 21-27 March with five franchises Angika Avengers, Bhagalpur Bulls, Dharbhanga Diamonds, Gaya Gladiators and Patna Pilots.
Quizzed whether batting will be easier in the final Test as it will be a red ball game again, he answered in affirmative.
Nicolaou said Australia didn't give South Africa a chance to clarify the local situation before taking “a unilateral decision.”