Sri Lanka, the second-most successful Asia Cup nation, have added yet another title to their trophy cabinet. The Lions are the Champions of Asia for the sixth time, just one title behind India. At such delicate times where the country is in crisis, surely the Sri Lankan team have done their nation proud and united their citizens to enjoy this moment of pure joy. To think that this tournament was meant to be hosted by the island nation, it would have been a thing of beauty to see the fans and the players celebrate it on their home soil.
Regardless, Sri Lanka did a phenomenal job in turning around their fates in the 2022 Asia Cup. From an embarrassing loss against the underdogs, Afghanistan and barely surviving against Bangladesh, to beating the favourites to snatch the title, the Lions achieved the impossible.
Let’s look at some big talking points from this year’s edition as we edge closer to the T20 World Cup.
Sri Lanka complete the turn-around
Sri Lanka’s start to the 2022 Asia Cup suggested that they were not one of the favourites. The first loss against Afghanistan was unexpected but not a surprise. The Lions were helpless as the underdogs thrashed them in the first innings for just 105 before the end of the final over. Losing the match by eight wickets with almost 10 overs in the second innings would leave anyone in anguish.
In the second match against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka won by a minuscule margin of just two wickets and four balls, as the Lankans chased down 184 runs. A loss followed by a marginal win doesn’t make one the favourites for the title. Sri Lanka’s odds were seen as futile heading into the Super Four, given the presence of India and Afghanistan with two straight wins.
However, Sri Lanka in the Super Four looked like a completely different beast. They not only settled the score with Afghanistan, but they also won a close match against the favourites India and virtually knocked them out of the final. By doing so, the Lions silenced their critics and proved their resilience to the world.
Sri Lanka, heading into the final, was the only side to have won all three matches in the Super Four, even beating finalists Pakistan in the last match of the stage. Giving the Men in Green the trailer of what would transpire, the Lions overwhelmed Pakistan in the final of the Asia Cup even after a disastrous start to the second innings by Sri Lankan seamer Dilshan Madhushanka. With one of their most emphatic wins in the tournament, the Lankan Lions lifted their sixth Asia Cup trophy.
Pakistani stars displayed mixed results
The odds of Pakistan were perhaps as high as India’s heading into the 2022 Asia Cup. Their captain Babar Azam was the best T20I batter as per the ICC rankings prior to the tournament. However, his campaign was horrendous, averaging just 11.33 in six innings. His teammate Fakhar Zaman had an equally appalling campaign with an average of just 16.
Seen as two of the stronger batters in the tournament, they failed to deliver for their nation when it mattered most. Despite Pakistan’s more favourable odds and their star players unable to deliver, two players stood out for the Men in Green i.e. Mohammad Rizwan and debutant Naseem Shah.
Rizwan has overtaken his captain as the best batter in T20I with his splendid Asia Cup performance. He finished this campaign with the most runs (281) and the most fifties (3). Naseem Shah scalped seven wickets in his first-ever international tournament, having never played white-ball cricket before. Moreover, the 19-year-old also knows how to bat as a tailender. His most notable performance came against Afghanistan in the second Super Four match where he smashed two sixes in the final over to guarantee Pakistan a safe passage to the final.
India’s underwhelming performance
India might have won their group stage fixtures but the fact that they couldn’t make it to the final renders their previous efforts useless. India were the favourites to lift the trophy heading into the Asia Cup and they were still the favourites after the group stage. However, after the Pakistan rematch, things went south for the Men in Blue. What should have been a cakewalk for the players became a nightmare for the Indian supporters. So much so that we witnessed an angry Rohit Sharma twice in one match.
Against Sri Lanka, India took it lightly it seemed with reliable batters like Virat Kohli, Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul losing their wickets early on. What should have been a game of strong performances by the Men in Blue was anything but as India’s blunders continued in the second innings with the ball. India had enough firepower to defend a target as big as 174 but they failed to do so.
The 2022 Asia Cup should be a wake-up call for the Men in Blue as they really need to sort things out within the squad. The biggest takeaway for the Indian supporters is that Virat Kohli seems to be back to his top form. His three-year-long wait for a century was finally over as the former Indian skipper smashed his first-ever T20I ton to take his overall tally to 71. Kohli has now tied his tally of centuries with the legendary Australian skipper Ricky Ponting with only Sachin Tendulkar’s 100 hundreds left to beat.
Afghanistan showing enough potential
Afghanistan may have been winless in the Super Four, but their group stage performance was enough to let the world know of their potential. As a nation still growing in cricket, we were exposed to some of the most exciting young talents in cricket. The likes of Mujeeb Ur Rahman, who opened the bowling attack for Afghanistan despite being a spinner bagging seven wickets, and Ibrahim Zadran, who scored the third-most runs in the tournament are promising to say the least.
Rashid Khan and skipper Mohammad Nabi continue to deliver for their nation as they emerge in cricket. Both players have been crucial in Afghanistan’s growth as a cricket team as their influence continues to encourage young Afghans to watch and play the sport. It will be interesting to see how Afghanistan fare against the best teams in the world in the upcoming T20 World Cup.
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