On Sunday, Sri Lanka defeated Pakistan by 23 runs in the final of the Asia Cup to lift the championship for the sixth time. This is the third time Sri Lanka has beaten Pakistan in the Asia Cup final. Batting first, after losing the toss, Sri Lanka scored 170-6 in their 20 overs and then skittled Pakistan out for 147 to seal the match.
Here are the five factors that turned the tide in their favour:
1) Rajapaksa’s rollicking romp: Bhanuka Rajapaksa is not exactly known for consistency, but on Sunday he arguably reeled off the most celebrated innings of his career. The left-hander came to the crease when Sri Lanka were tottering at 36-3 after Haris Rauf blew away their top-order. The situation worsened as Sri Lanka slumped to 58-5.
Though there has never been any doubt about his exhilarating stroke-play, Rajapaksa often lacked the temperament to craft an innings. However, he seemed to have learned his lessons as he carved out finely calibrated innings for his team. When the situation was dire, Rajapaksa focused on rebuilding the innings and milked the ball around in gaps to pick up singles and doubles.
The hallmark of his innings was picking the right time to begin acceleration. He began to flex his muscles from the 11th over as he unfurled a terrific inside-out shot against the leg-spinner Shadab Khan to collect a boundary. He then proceeded to crack a flurry of fours. Rajapaksa was brilliantly inventive and played a string of unconventional shots. In the 17th over, he swatted the pacer, Naseem Shah, over backward square-leg for a six and repeated the same shot in the last over to collect four runs.
On the last ball of the 20th over, he smoked Shah for a six over deep cover to propel his team to 170.
2) Hasaranga’s all-round exploits: Wanindu Hasaranga once again demonstrated why he is deemed as one of the best T20 cricketers in the world at present. After the collapse of the top-order, he joined forces with Rajapaksa and stitched a 58-run alliance with him for the 6th wicket. During the partnership, he was the dominant scorer as he clouted a sprightly 36 off 21 balls. In fact, he started taking Pakistan bowlers to the cleaners and eased the pressure.
With the ball, he nipped out three important Pakistan batters in one over and snuffed out the glimmer of hope Pakistan had to win the match. In the 17th over, he had Pakistan’s best batsman, Mohammad Rizwan, caught at deep mid-wicket and then cleaned up Asif Ali with a sharp googly. The left-hander, Khushdil Shah, also fell to his wiles in the same over. Overall, he snaffled three scalps for 27 runs in four overs.
3) Bravura fielding: In the end, the difference between the two teams perhaps was fielding. Sri Lankan cricketers were supremely agile in the field and saved heaps of runs through their sparkling fielding. They also grabbed a couple of astonishing catches at critical moments, which swung the momentum their way. Dilshan Madhushanka caught a sharp catch off Babar Azam as Pakistan lost their first wicket. In the 17th over, Gunalthilaka pulled off a brilliant catch at the deep mid-wicket boundary to dismiss Rizwan, who was the only batsman standing between Sri Lanka and victory.
In contrast, Shadab Khan dropped two catches from Rajapaksa, which proved enormously costly. In the 18th over, Rajapaksa was dropped by Shadab at long-on despite making a fine attempt. But what happened in the next over was a sheer blunder. Rajapaksa swiped Mohammad Hasnain to deep mid-wicket where Shadab and Asif Ali collided as both attempted to take the catch. However, the ball was parried over the boundary line by Asif as a result of the collision and went for a six.
4) The ‘under-rated’ Madushan: It will be unfair to forget the medium-pacer Pramod Madhushan while raving about Rajapaksa and Hasaranga. The right-arm seamer removed Azam and Fakhar Zaman on consecutive deliveries to get the first two wickets for Sri Lanka. Later, he hustled out Iftikhar Ahmed for 32 and snapped the stand between him and Rizwan.
Later, he also accounted for Naseem Shah and finished with four wickets for 34.
5) Rizwan’s insipid innings: There’s no denying the fact that Rizwan has probably been the best T20I batsman in the last two years, but his innings on Sunday was rather a dull one. Not only did he take 49 balls to score 55, but he also got out when Pakistan needed him to finish the match. Being an experienced batter, there is no harm in playing the role of a sheet anchor, but his reluctance to crank up the tempo even in the face of a soaring required run rate was simply baffling.
His tame innings put the entire onus on the other batters to accelerate, and as a result, they got out by playing cavalier shots. And when Pakistan needed him to finish the match, having consumed so many deliveries, he flattered to deceive.