by Rex Clementine
When the Asia Cup schedule was done, it was put through in such a way that there was a possibility of India and Pakistan facing each other thrice; once in the group stage, secondly in Super Four and then in the final. Cricket contests between the nuclear armed neighbours bring in the much needed television revenue for our beautiful game. Not many doubted that India and Pakistan will face off in the final as India were world’s number one ranked team while Pakistan are ranked second. But Dasun Shanaka’s energetic Sri Lankan’s (ranked eighth) had other plans. They spoilt India’s party sending them home early and then thrashed Pakistan in the final to clinch their sixth Asia Cup title. It was Sri Lanka’s first major white ball tournament win in eight years.
Don’t forget that Sri Lanka did it without three of their best players. Avishka Fernando, Kusal Perera and Dushmantha Chameera. They are all injured and when they return later this year in Australia for the World Cup, they will be a tough side to beat. They almost reached the semis in the last edition only for Killer Miller (David Miller) to send them packing after one over of mayhem.
Sri Lanka are producing fast bowlers like what Pakistan used to do. This Dilshan Madusanka clocking 140kmph plus with his left arm thunderbolt is going to be a player we are going to hear a lot about. Highly rated by former great Chaminda Vaas, he bowled some deadly spells and the ball that got Virat Kohli will remain in Sri Lankan fans’ memories for a long times.
Leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga sent down magic spells and was rightly named Player of the Series.
The highlight of the final was the manner in which Sri Lanka recovered. At 58 for five in the ninth over, they were going to get bowled out for a lowly score. But Bhanuka Rajapaksa was brutal hammering 71 off 45 with six fours and three sixes. The two partnerships he was involved in with fellow Royaliat Chamika Karunaratne and Hasaranga helped Sri Lanka to fight back and post a par total.
Sri Lanka’s coaching staff have been challenging Rajapaksa to get fitter and leaner. He’s taken up the challenge and delivered in a big final.
It’s a bold decision by the selectors to give Kusal Mendis the wicketkeeping duties and how well he has performed. Not just behind the stumps but with the bat as well opening the innings. Openers in T20 cricket these days are expected to be dashers. But Kusal is different. He clears the boundary with sweet timing. There aren’t more elegant batters in Sri Lanka than Mendis when he’s on song. With Kusal keeping, Sri Lanka have been able to balance the side and play the extra all-rounder.
Dasun Shanaka was captain by default. He’s turned the fortunes of his team in a short span. He’s not the most talented guy you’ll find. He works on his strengths and scores from there alone. You don’t often see him cutting or driving. He scores mostly hitting straight boundaries and pulling. With the ball, a lot of spot bowling has enabled him to to be handy.
Fielding has been one area that Sri Lanka had flopped in recent years. They have made amends through sheer hard work and fielding made a big difference on Sunday between victory and defeat. Given the way they started with a humiliating defeat against Afghanistan, it looked the same old story for Sri Lanka. But then five terrific unbeaten games, some of them last over thrillers, has seen them making a statement.