Pathirana, Asalanka lead Sri Lanka to vital opening win

Sri Lanka defeated Bangladesh by 5 wickets

Charith Asalanka and Sadeera Samarawickrama each scored fifty runs to help Sri Lanka defeat Bangladesh by five wickets in a tense chase in slow conditions to open their Asia Cup campaign. As a result, Sri Lanka has a chance to advance to the Super 4 level, while Bangladesh will play an important match against Afghanistan.

Asalanka, who entered this match in a shaky patch of form, finished undefeated on 62 off 92 deliveries. This tenacious performance was just what the two-paced Pallekele surface and a bowling unit from Bangladesh required to win the match.

When Asalanka joined Samarawickrama in the middle of their aim of just 165, Sri Lanka was in serious trouble at 43 for 3. Prior to that, Taskin Ahmed’s full in-ducker had been played all over by Dimuth Karanuratne, and Kusal Mendis had been castled by a Shakib Al Hasan arm ball. Pathum Nissanka had cut and stolen a short, wide one from Shoriful Islam in between.

When defending a low score, early wickets are essential, and Bangladesh undoubtedly thought they were still in the match at that juncture. However, Sri Lanka had Samarawickrama, who was just the man they needed in that circumstance.

Samarawickrama, who was batting at position number four, took it upon himself to keep the scoreboard going. While he demonstrated his purpose by hitting back-to-back boundaries against Taskin, including a lavish cover drive, the loss of wickets compelled him to take on more of an accumulator role.

When Asalanka joined him, the two were initially content to poke about for singles and play dot balls when necessary, with no pressure from the scoreboard. Even so, Samarawickrama relieved any tension that may have been building by hitting two fours against Shakib in the 19th over.

Before Samarawickrama was stumped off Mahedi Hasan and the pair lost their partnership, the chase was already well under control. They had put 78 runs together. Shortly after, Shakib disturbed Dhananjaya de Silva’s stumps, which added to the Sri Lankans’ anxiety. However, Dasun Shanaka and Asalanka joined Asalanka at the crease to finish the chase.

Given that they did not bat out the entire 50 overs, Bangladesh will be left wondering what might have been. Only Najmul Hossain Shanto, who batted bravely for 89 runs, offered any resistance to Sri Lanka’s bowlers, who knocked out the remainder of Bangladesh’s batting order for 164 runs after putting the rest of the lineup under heavy pressure.

Maheesh Theekshana, who is consistently superb, picked up a few of wickets, and Matheesha Pathirana finished with career-best figures of 4 for 32 to cap his Asia Cup debut. 

But Dhananjaya and Dunith Wellalage’s right-arm and left-arm spin combo plowed through the middle overs, never letting the batters score freely, and most importantly, allowed captain Shanaka to delay the reintroduction of both Theekshana and Pathirana. This set the stage for Sri Lanka’s strike bowlers to flourish.

This was essential since Sri Lanka was missing one strike bowler because Wanindu Hasaranga was injured. But despite the challenging conditions, Sri Lanka’s bowlers maintained strong lines and lengths and never really let the Bangladesh hitters have the upper hand for a sizable period of time.

After the openers Tanzid Hasan and Mohammed Naim were cheaply removed by Theekshana and Dhananjaya, Shakib gloved Pathirana behind in the eleventh over, leaving Bangladesh reeling at 36 for 3.

With Shanto and Towhid Hridoy putting on a 59-run partnership, Bangladesh appeared to be taking the initiative at this stage. However, the strain that had been building up throughout the middle overs started to take its toll. Shanaka initiated contact and used DRS to put Hridoy in the corner.

Then Mushfiqur Rahim and Shanto shared 32 runs for the fifth wicket, but the former was out at deep third after being caught by a classic trap of two full deliveries and a short one.

After Mushfiqur left, Pathirana and Theekshana raced through the lower order, leaving no Bangladeshi batter able to hold Shanto company for an extended period of time. The only other batter to achieve double digits, besides Shanto, was Hridoy, who reached 20. Only two other batters did so.