Sri Lanka beat Pakistan by 23 runs to win the Asia Cup. Bhanuka Rajapaksa who scored an unbeaten 71 off 45 balls and Wanindu Hasaranga whose allround show (36 off 21 & 3/27) demonstrated how one could turn adversity into opportunity for Lanka. On Sunday, they managed to restore their cricketing identity as a powerhouse from the Indian subcontinent. Known as the Lions, they were roaring again when Chamika Karunaratne knocked over Haris Rauf’s stumps off the last ball of the match.
Rajapaksa came out to bat at 36/3 in the sixth over against a Pakistan pace attack that was breathing fire after Babar Azam won the toss and elected to bowl first. And when the left-hander deposited a Naseem Shah thunderbolt over the extra-cover fence off the last ball of the innings, he ensured Sri Lankan bowlers had a competitive total of 170/6 to defend.
The Sri Lankans hounded the Pakistan batting lineup like a pack of wolves sniffing the kill, fielding with their hearts on their sleeves and bowling with immaculate planning. Babar was the first victim, felling for five after flicking the ball to short fine-leg, Mohammad Rizwan flung his bat in frustration at the other end. Pakistan never recovered.
Rizwan decided to take it upon himself to take the match deep with his 49-ball 55 but Hasaranga and Pramod Madushan (4/20), playing in just his second game, chipped away at the wickets to choke Pakistan. The two teams, playing to restore their cricketing pride, turned up ready to throw punches at each other. But it was the Pakistani team which landed the first blow when Naseem’s deadly inswinger knocked over the in-form opener Kusal Mendis’ stumps in the first over.
At 58/5 with their captain Dasun Shanaka gone while trying to slog leg-spinner Shadab Khan in the ninth over, it seemed the occasion was getting to them as Haris Rauf and Mohammad Hasnain complemented Naseem with searing pace.
Rajapaksa, however, stemmed the tide with a fearless, calculated and elegant knock. He found an able ally in Wanindu Hasaranga and the two rebuild the innings with aplomb. There was no chest-thumping in the middle from Rajapaksa even as each of his strikes triggered fist pumps in the dugout throughout the innings. Rajapaksa was in a zone where nobody could gatecrash his party.