Dasun Shanaka: Kusal and Sadeera are the best players of spin at the moment

Dasun Shanaka says Kusal and Sadeera are the best players of spin at the moment, Charith was great and the character of a great player. Special feeling to play back-to-back finals

With a target of 252 and a rain-shortened game of 42 overs, Sri Lanka required six runs per over right away, Mendis and Samarawickrama made a 100-run partnership to help their side qualify for the final while Sri Lanka will take on India in the Asia Cup final on Sunday.

Pakistan had won the toss and decided to bat first.  For a significant portion of their innings, this choice didn’t seem to be the best one because the Sri Lankan bowlers dominated both the middle overs and the early exchanges. 

The first five overs brought a wicket and only 13 runs, while by the end of the tenth, Pakistan had almost reached 40. A brief phase of acceleration occurred at this point, with Abdullah Shafique and Babar running well and hitting regular boundaries.

However, Babar became stumped for the fourth time in ODIs this year as he lost balance in response to a ball that beat the bat off Wellalage. This again dragged things down as Pakistan’s weak spots were exposed by Sri Lanka. However, Shafique also lost his wicket by top-edging a pull from Matheesha Pathirana to deep square leg after reaching his first ODI fifty.

The only batter who appeared to be making an effort during this time was Mohammad Rizwan, but he too survived a couple of close calls, either of which, had they been taken, would have drastically changed the strategy of the innings, and possibly the game.

The first was a stumping opportunity, as he fell over trying to flick an arm ball from Dhananjaya; fortunately for Rizwan, Mendis behind the stumps couldn’t gather cleanly. 

The second was a missed sweep that popped up off the glove towards a vacant short leg; Mendis dove full length to his left but came agonizingly close to getting his gloves under it.

However, at the other end, wickets kept falling, and when the rains returned a second time, Pakistan was 130 for 5 in 27.4 overs. 

The umpires allowed play to continue through a drizzle in the anticipation that it would only be a passing shower, even though the ground staff had been prepared with the covers several overs earlier. 

This, however, quickly developed into a brief but heavy downpour that caused considerable portions of the ground, including the pitch, to become drenched.

Even though there was only a 30-minute delay in play, the impact of that brief downpour would be felt for the rest of the game. Not only had the match been reduced to 42 overs a side, but also the grip and turn which the spinners had been exploiting had all but vanished. A ball that was sliding through onto the bat was in its place.

Before the rain break, Rizwan was barely moving, hitting 22 from his first 30 balls, and it took him just another 18 deliveries to achieve his half-century. He took a particular liking to Madushan, who was playing his first game of the tournament in place of Kasun Rajitha. 

When Madushan returned in the 33rd over after his first four-over spell of 1 for 16, Rizwan greeted him with a nonchalant slap over deep midwicket.

In the end, Pakistan’s final ten overs produced 102 runs, with Rizwan finishing unbeaten on 86 off 73 balls. With a strong 47 off 40, Iftikhar served as the perfect supporting player on the other end. The pair put on 108 off 78 deliveries for the sixth wicket.

With a target of 252 and a rain-shortened game of 42 overs, Sri Lanka required six runs per over right away, but in Mendis and Samarawickrama, they had two in-form batters of the tournament at their disposal. 

The game seemed to be in Sri Lanka’s hands during their 100-run third-wicket stand as they smashed singles while still finding boundaries when necessary.

In fact, one of the features of the chase was that Sri Lanka never ran away with it, while at the same time keeping the required rate always at six or below. While this exuded a sense of control, it also allowed Pakistan the open late in the game.

Iftikhar Ahmed, who finished with 3 for 50 in eight overs, dismissed both Samarawickrama and Mendis against the run of play. 

Samarawickrama came down the track and missed an arm ball to be stumped, while Mendis chipped a leading edge for Mohammad Haris to take a brilliant catch at short extra cover, diving full length in front and grasping it centimeters off the ground.

With six wickets remaining, Sri Lanka needed 42 off 41 balls, and while Dasun Shanaka fell shortly after, but Dhananjaya de Silva kept Asalanka Company as the target was lowered to 12 off 12 deliveries with five wickets remaining.

Enter Shaheen Shah Afridi, who had had a mediocre game up until then by his standards – eight overs bowled, 48 runs conceded, and no wickets taken. Six balls later, Sri Lanka were seven down, and another eight away with six balls remaining as Afridi first had Dhananjaya caught at long-on off a low full toss, and then Dunith Wellalage nick behind looking to heave one across the line.

Zaman had given eight runs in his last over and needed to save eight in the final over of the chase. 

He allowed tailender Pramod Madushan off strike first ball, but then Asalanka incredibly took a single off the third after a dot, leaving Madushan on strike with six needed from three. 

After Pakistan had gained entry into the match, Madushan and Asalanka made a wild mix-up while attempting to run a bye as the ball rolled away to the wicketkeeper. Thus, Madushan was run out at the non-striker’s end. 

After Maheesh Theekshana had a hamstring injury while playing on the field, Sri Lanka also lacked a batter and required six runs from the next two deliveries, which put Pakistan in the lead.

But then Asalanka edged a swipe for a four-run between the wicketkeeper and short third. With two runs remaining and the possibility of a Super Over, Asalanka turned a yorker attempt behind square leg, giving Sri Lanka and the crowded Premadasa Stadium a huge sigh of relief.

Sri Lanka will take on India in the Asia Cup final on Sunday.

Kusal Mendis player of the Match:

“Very happy to come to the final. Overall everyone played really well. A couple of wickets went down, but I was hoping that Charith would finish the game as he has done it before. And he did it. The batter unit has done very well, and so has the bowler. Wanindu, Chameera, and Kumara are the main bowler, but in the WC they are coming back. Dunith has been bowling well. We have a young unit. Everyone has done well.”

Dasun Shanaka, Sri Lanka Captain:

“We had the game under our control but we could have stayed till the end. We gave them a chance to come back but Charith held his nerves. We had the discussion going before the batting. The coaching staff and myself spoke that the mistake was made in the India game. Wickets were given in the first 10 overs, today we did not want to do that mistake. Kusal and Sadeera are the best players of spin at the moment. Charith was great. The character of a great player. Special feeling to play back-to-back finals. Thanks to the crowd.”

Babar Azam, Pakistan Captain:

“We just decided to bowl our best overs and asked Shaheen to bowl the second last over and believed in Zaman. Sri Lanka played very well, better cricket than us. We have not been up to the mark in the bowling and fielding. That is why we lost the match. In the middle overs, we did not bowl well. That partnership cost us. We started well and ended well, but the middle overs were not great. We have lacked that.”