Sri Lanka are celebrating after winning the 2022 Asia Cup. They beat Pakistan by 23 runs in Sunday’s final in Dubai, to win it for a sixth time. They are now just behind India in terms of the most successful teams in the competition.
And yet, that all seemed highly unlikely after they were heavily beaten in the first match of this year’s tournament by Afghanistan. However, they regrouped, and have proved to be the best team in the competition this year.
As for Pakistan, they will know that too many of their big name players just did not show up on the day.
Pakistan won the toss and, as has become the time honoured tradition in Dubai, chose to field first.
That decision soon appeared justified, as they took the wicket of Sri Lanka opener Kusal Mendis, whose runs had helped carry his side to the final first ball, and reduced their opponents to 36/3 and then 58/5.
Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Wanindu Hasaranga led the fightback, putting on 68 for the sixth wicket, with Hasaranga making 36 off 21 balls, including one six. And, when he was dismissed, Rajapaksa was joined in the middle by Chamika Karunaratne, and the pair shared an unbeaten stand of 54.
That enabled Sri Lanka to post the competitive score of 170/6 from their 20 overs, with Rajapaksa undefeated on 71, made off 45 balls, featuring 3 sixes and 6 fours. Karunaratne, who played a supporting role, was 14 not out.
Pakistan made a poor start of their own, lost two wickets in successive balls in the fourth over, including their captain Babar Azam, who had another failure with the bat. Fortunately for them, Mohammad Rizwan had picked up the slack from Babar in this tournament, becoming the number ranked T20I batter in the world in the process, and he was at it again, adding 71 for the third wicket with Iftikhar Ahmed who made 32.
However, they had fallen behind the required run rate, and, when they tried to press the accelerator, the Sri Lankan bowlers began to have some joy.
The 17th over saw three wickets, including that of Rizwan, out for 55, as spinner Wanindu Hasaranga ripped through the heart of their batting order, whilst, at the other end, pacerPramod Madushan, playing in just his second T20I, was claiming four wickets of his own,
In the end, Pakistan were all out for 147 off the last ball of the match, but the game was over as a meaningful contest by then.
Some key talking points
Sri Lanka won the tournament because they were the best team. They may not have the talent in depth of a squad like India, but they proved that they were more than the sum of their parts. India, on the other hand, did not seem to know what their best starting XI was, and were always chopping and changing their side.
Equally, too many Pakistan players had a bad fortnight. The form of Babar Azam is a concern ahead of the World Cup, but they will also be disappointed by the lack of penetration from their bowlers.
Rajapaksa continues his form
Rajapaksa had already made a name for himself with his displays for the Punjab Kings in the Indian T20 league this year, and once again he showed his mettle in the white heat of competition. He had been a consistent run scorer for his side through the competition, but he saved his best for last, scoring his third T20I fifty, and, in the process, earning himself the Player of the Match nomination.
Hasaranga turns the tide
The Player of the Series award though, went to his team-mate Hasaranga – another Indian T20 league star – who really turned the tide decisively in favour of his team with his three wickets in five balls in the 17th over. He had been a bowling threat throughout the Asia Cup, and his innings with the bat should not be forgotten either, providing Rajapaksa with the support he needed to build the Sri Lankan total.
Can Sri Lanka qualify for the World Cup
The irony is that Sri Lanka, despite their exploits in the Middle East, still have work to do if they want to be involved in the latter stages of next month’s World Cup in Australia. That is because their ICC T20I ranking was just not good enough.
Instead they will play in a qualifying first round, where they have been drawn with Namibia, the Netherlands, and the UAE in Group A. If they can play like they have the past two weeks, they should surmount that challenge with ease.
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