Pakistan captain Babar Azam wore a big smile when he won the toss in the final of the Asia Cup against Sri Lanka in Dubai on Sunday. Babar had no hesitation asking Sri Lanka to bat, given that chasing has proven to be a winning formula in this tournament.
Sri Lanka, however, incredibly managed to defy the odds to come out on top by 23 runs. The Lankans first fought hard to post a respectable 170 for six, before bowling and fielding with verve to romp home.
Pakistan’s descent began when mainstay Mohammad Rizwan fell for 55, taken at deep midwicket off spinner Wanindu Hasaranga. Rizwan was forced to try the big hits, as the required rate was getting out of control. In the same over, Hasaranga scalped Asif Ali and Khushdil Shah to seal the issue.
Medium pacer Pramod Madushan, playing his second T20I, picked up three top-order wickets.
Earlier, a terrific unbeaten 71 from Bhanuka Rajapaksa pulled Sri Lanka out of a hole. The Islanders looked in deep trouble at 58 for five, before Rajapaksa and Hasaranga (36, 21b, 5x4, 1x6) repaired the damage with a 58-run sixth-wicket stand.
Hasaranga was the early aggressor, hitting pacer Mohammad Hasnain for a four and a six in the 13th over. He was dismissed by Haris Rauf soon after, making too much room and getting an edge.
Rajapaksa used timing and clean strokes to find the runs. He received a life on 45, when Shadab Khan ran into Asif Ali and spilled a regulation high catch at deep midwicket. The duo somehow managed to pop the ball over the fence to concede a six.
The Pakistan fast bowlers dominated proceedings at the start of the match. Naseem Shah produced a sharp, unplayable inswinger in the first over to rattle Kusal Mendis’ stumps.
Rauf hurried Pathum Nissanka into playing a false shot, and beat Danushka Gunathilaka for pace. Even the spinners got among the wickets, with Iftikhar Ahmed and Shadab taking out Dhananjaya de Silva and Dasun Shanaka.
From here, Sri Lanka desperately needed to rebuild. Rajapaksa answered the call and scripted a remarkable turnaround for the Lankans.