A stunning performance from Sri Lanka helps them beat Pakistan to lift the #AsiaCup2022 🏆

Sri Lanka landed in UAE to participate in Asia Cup 2022, with chaos at home amid economic and leadership crises. Their start to the tournament was even more disastrous, however, despite the chaos, they managed to win their sixth Asia Cup title, thanks to the heroics of ‘player of the series’ Wanindu Hasaranga de Silva.

They were the ultimate underdogs, who the cricket pundits predicted to be knocked out way earlier in the tournament, following their crushing defeat against Afghanistan in the opening game. They lost the game by 8 wickets and 59 balls to spare.

They were bashed black and blue by the media, and everyone wrote them off. The cricketing world expected an India-Pakistan final, or maybe Afghanistan against India or Pakistan. Sri Lanka looked out of the picture. However, as the tournament progressed, the Sri Lankan team kept getting better. They looked like a well-gelled team throughout the tournament, and every player played their role to help the team reach the finals.

However, just like their tournament, the final also started turbulently for them. Firstly, they lost the toss and were put into bat first which is a psychological disadvantage. Then, they lost in-form Kusal Mendis on the first ball (duck), courtesy of Naseem Shah’s brilliant inswinger. Pakistani pace attack struck Sri Lankan batters like lightning and they were stranded at 58 for 5 after 9 overs.

But the chaos did not bother Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Wanindu Hasaranga, as they launched a counter-attack against Pakistan bowlers. As the saying goes ‘Fortune favors the brave’, Rajapaksa was dropped twice during his innings, and that too by the best fielder on the Pakistan team — Shadab Khan. During the second drop catch, Shadab Khan collided with Asif Ali which caused injury to both, as mentioned by Pakistan coach Saqlain Mushtaq during the press conference.

Rajapaksa and Hasaranga added 58 runs off 36 balls during their sixth wicket partnership. Rajapaksa attacked more ferociously after the fall of Hasaranga and ended the innings at 71 runs off 45 balls. Sri Lanka recovered from 58/5 to post a fighting total of 170/6. Rajapaksa’s innings is the highest individual score while batting at No. 5 or lower in a men’s T20I knockout game.

Pakistani pacers were brilliant at the start, but they lost the rhythm during Rajapaksa’s onslaught. Naseem Shah and Hasnain gave 40 and 41 runs respectively. Babar Azam also played a gamble by bowling off-spinner Iftikhar Ahmed instead of Pakistan’s second-best bowler Mohammad Nawaz. Although Iftikhar picked up the wicket of Dhananjaya de Silva, but he failed to serve the purpose, to remove Rajapaksa early.

Pakistan’s chase started with 9 runs without any legal delivery by young pacer Dilshan Madushanka. He started with a no-ball and followed up with two wides before swinging another ball down the leg-side to Rizwan for five wides, past the wicketkeeper Kusal Mendis. It was followed by another wide before Madushanka landed the first ball on length to Rizwan. The 21-year-old, however, proceeded to bowl out the over by just conceding three runs in the next six balls during a first over that lasted 11 deliveries.

Sri Lankan fielders were energetic from the beginning and kept things tight. The pressure mounted and captain Babar Azam fell prey to Pramod Madushan. Fakhar Zaman came down to the ground with a massive responsibility in the all-important final after a disastrous tournament. But he bagged the golden duck, as an inside edge stuck to the stumps.

Iftikhar joined Mohammad Rizwan with major responsibility on their shoulders, a Rajapaksa-Hasaranga-like partnership was required from them. They launched a counter-attack of their own, but not on par with T20 standards but with ODI standards. They added 71 runs off 59 balls while chasing 171.

Iftikhar’s innings ended at 32 off 31, a memorable innings for all the wrong reasons. At that stage, Pakistan required 78 runs off 40 balls. Everyone expected Rizwan to finally unleash, but he too perished soon after scoring 49-ball 55. He managed to score most runs in the tournament, but the intent he showed in scoring them raised eyebrows. His innings came to an end courtesy of Wanindu Hasaranga, who picked up two more wickets in the same over. That over sealed the deal for Islanders, as there was too much to chase for Pakistan. Sri Lanka comfortably bowled out Pakistan at 147 and win the game by 23 runs. This was also Sri Lanka’s fifth consecutive win in T20Is against Pakistan, under Dasun Shanaka. They bowled out Pakistan 4 times out of these five games.

This loss raises many questions for the Pakistan team, which they need to answer before World T20 next month in Australia. They can’t afford to carry the same fragile middle order in WT20, and the strike rate of their top order is also a worrying sign for Pakistan. On the other side, Sri Lanka’s victory showed that a team should play as a team rather than banking on individual superstars to win a tournament.