Bhanuka Rajapaksa struck a sublime 45-ball 71 and in the company of Wanindu Hasaranga and then Chamika Karunaratne, dug Sri Lanka out of a hole. The Island nation was five down for 67 at the halfway mark but, through a methodical takedown of Pakistan’s pace bowling at the death, slammed 50 in the last four.
Coming into last night’s match, Pakistan had the second-best death bowling economy rate - 9.63. On Sunday, its fast bowlers conceded 12.5 runs per over between 17 and 20.
Naseem Shah had an economy rate of under 6 when he came to bowl the 17th over. Twice he missed his lengths; Rajapaksa and Karunaratne hit him for a six each, taking 16 off the over.
Haris Rauf bowled the 18th - last of his spell - and went for 11, which included three off a dropped catch. Mohammad Hasnain’s 19th went for just eight, including another maximum off the last ball.
Naseem, back for the final over, had gone for just five off his first four. But he bowled two full deliveries and was duly despatched for two back-to-back boundaries by Rajapaksa.
Curiously, Babar Azam gave left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz just a solitary over, which went for three. Nawaz had taken eight wickets before Sunday’s final and had been one of Pakistan’s most successful bowlers in this Asia Cup. But the presence of left-handed Rajapaksa perhaps discouraged Babar from bowling Namaz more often. Instead, off-spinner Iftikhar Ahmed and leggie Shadab Khan bowled seven overs between them for 49 runs and two wickets.
Rajapaksa’s prowess against spin through the middle overs meant Pakistan tried to counter it by turning to Rauf and Hasnain, who essentially bowled very fast, and often short lengths with the odd yorker length. But to Sri Lanka’s credit, it took 14 and 11 off Hasnain and Rauf, respectively while losing Hasaranga’s wicket.
Acing the PowerPlay
Sri Lanka turned its weakness into strength by conceding just 37 in its PowerPlay, dismissing two batters - this despite the early extras from Dilshan Madushanka. Before tonight, Sri Lankan bowlers had gone for over nine runs per over and picked just five wickets inside the first six.
Using spin wisely
Wicketkeeper-batter Mohammad Rizwan had got his eye in and was looking to bat deep. Dasun Shanaka held back one over of his star leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga for the death overs, and the latter did not disappoint. Rizwan was batting on 55 off 48 with Pakistan needing 61 to win in 24 balls when Hasaranga had him caught trying to slog-sweep a six.
In the same over, Hasaranga went on to remove Asif Ali and Khushdil Shah to seal Pakistan’s fate. Hasaranga finished with figures of 4-0-27-3.
Sri Lanka’s ground fielding was excellent. Their deep fielders covered ground quickly, and those inside the circle cut off angles to deny batters rotation of strike. Their catching was equally brilliant, ultimately making a total of 170 look like 200-plus.