DUBAI (Agencies):A tournament that began for Sri Lanka with tumult at home and turbulence in the UAE has ended with them taking home the Asia Cup trophy. Pakistan were the side at the receiving end of this thumping, outclassed with the bat, outsmarted with the ball, outdone in the field, and out-thought in the captaincy department by an electric Sri Lankan performance which wrapped up a commanding 23-run win.
Bhanuka Rajapaksa formed the backbone of the Sri Lankan innings, rescuing his side from 58 for 5 with an unbeaten 45-ball 71 that saw them post 170. It was followed by a spirited showing in the field as Sri Lanka outmatched Pakistan’s intensity, with Wanindu Hasaranga and Pramod Madushan taking seven wickets between them during a listless batting performance.
It had begun so smoothly for Pakistan, with Naseem Shah‘s opening-over wicket appearing to set the tone for Pakistan. Haris Rauf was in similarly breathtaking form, never more so than during an extraordinary sixth over where he threatened the stumps nearly every ball. By then, both Pathum Nissanka and Danushka Gunathilaka had been accounted for, and Dhananjaya de Silva and Dasun Shanaka would soon follow.
A revival led by Rajapaksa and Hasaranga helped Sri Lanka force themselves back into the game and a spirited finish ensured they’d post a competitive score. It was assisted by some ordinary ground fielding and catching by Pakistan; their best fielder, Shadab Khan, had a notoriously poor outing. Sri Lanka, by contrast, showed in the field how desperately they wanted this. Pakistan were stifled through the first half and then blown away in the second.
Babar Azam’s side never quite sure how to pace their innings, with an unrelenting Sri Lanka refusing to let them grind through the gears. In the end, it was a mismatch between a side that had brought their A-game and one that never quite found theirs. Long before it became official, it was evident Sri Lanka would win their sixth Asia Cup trophy, capping a sensational tournament by saving their best performance for last.
Naseem Shah’s first over
Whatever gift Shaheen Afridi possessed that got batters out in his first over seems to have been bestowed on Naseem in his absence. In a mesmeric start where the 19-year old found high pace almost right from the off, Kusal Mendis was done in for a golden duck by a near unplayable delivery. It made a beeline for the stumps, at searing speed, and the hapless Mendis could do little about it. The inswinger went through the gap between bat and pad, and uprooted off stump after clipping the thigh. It was Pakistani fast bowling at its scintillating best.
The umpire’s call
First, there was a slice of luck, and then the glorious skill. Off the fifth ball of his innings in Rauf’s scintillating sixth over, the bowler sent down a near unplayable leg-stump yorker at the in-form Rajapaksa. The batter played all around it, with the ball crunching into his foot. The umpire deemed it not out, only to have his decision upheld by the barest of margins, with Hawkeye deeming it to be umpire’s call on impact. To the naked eye, it looked out from just about every angle.
With Pakistan on top, it was a colossal moment in the final, and Rajapaksa wouldn’t let it go to waste. What followed was an innings of high class, that saw through a period of consolidation while Hasaranga at the other end took on a more proactive role. Sri Lanka were slowly chipping away at Pakistan, and without taking too many risks, Rajapaksa had brought up a 35-ball half-century.
Most memorable of all though, was the way he took on Naseem at the end, a bowler who had begun so sensationally in the Powerplay. A flick of the wrists deposited him over backward square leg in his penultimate over, before a four and a six off the innings’ final two balls ensured Sri Lanka had all the momentum with them at the break.
The Sri Lankan first over
There might never have been a game that saw such a contrast at the start of each bowling performance. While Naseem was unplayable to begin Pakistan’s work, Dilshan Madushanka was anything but. It wasn’t until the sixth ball that the innings even began with the left-arm seamer starting off with a no-ball and following it up with four wides, one of which went down to the boundary for an extra four. Pakistan had nine to their name without a legal ball being bowled and a free hit to follow. But Madushanka would come back smartly to allow just three more through the over, and Sri Lanka ensured it was a blip rather than a harbinger of what was to follow.
The entire second innings
There was so much to enjoy about Sri Lanka in the field it’s almost impossible to pick out individual moments. Madushan’s two-in-two to remove Babar and Fakhar Zaman set the tone. It also helped that an off colour Mohammad Rizwan never really figured out how to manipulate his innings according to the needs of the target.
Shanaka was especially canny about using his bowlers, perhaps in stark contrast to Pakistan who mysteriously opted not to have Mohammad Nawaz bowl out his quote. Throwing the ball to the offspinner de Silva just as the left-hander Nawaz came in to bat at No. 5 proved a masterstroke, with a couple of sensational dives in the field saving valuable runs off the first two balls, followed up by four dot balls that saw the asking rate balloon to 14.
Sri Lanka caught like a side possessed, too, whereas the only montage you could make of Pakistan’s fielding would be about their sloppiness. In the end, there was a yawning chasm between the performances the two sides put in, with the result a fair reflection.