Sri Lanka‘s Asia Cup final hero Bhanuka Rajapaksa reckoned his knock – 71* off 45 balls – was one of the best he’s ever played as it revived the team’s innings and pushed them towards a winning total. The hosts were down to 58 for 5 in the 9th over and were staring at a lowly total and the runners-up medal until Rajapaksa stepped up and steered his team clear.
He and Wanindu Hasaranga forged a stand worth 58 runs off 36 balls. When Hasaranga fell in the 15th over, Rajapaksa was batting on 37 off 28. He hit the next gear at the death overs as Sri Lanka smashed 53 off the last five overs. Rajapaksa accounted for 34 of those runs, in just 17 deliveries as he finished with a six to walk back on an unbeaten 71 off 45 balls – laced with six fours and three sixes. It powered the side to 170 for 6 that proved to be a winning total in the end.
“Of course it’s a wonderful moment and one of the best innings that I’ve played in a very short period of time,” Rajapaksa said in the post-match press conference. The left-hander said he and the team wanted to show their aggression in the game and hoped to ride on this success leading to the World Cup next month.
“We wanted to show the world… A couple of decades back, we had some sort of aggression in our side. And we wanted to create those moments again. I think as a unit we’re doing it fantastically well at the moment and we just want to look forward to the World Cup as well and to keep up this momentum,” Rajapaksa said.
“As a nation, I think it is a great win with all the crises happening back home. These are tough times for Sri Lankans and we are glad and we hope we brought some smiles to their faces,” he added.
Sri Lanka have enjoyed quite the journey at this tournament that culminated in them clinching their sixth Asia Cup title. Captain Dasun Shanaka revealed there were serious discussions that ensued following their absolute thrashing at the hands of Afghanistanin the tournament opener.
“After the first loss, we had a serious discussion. We knew that we had the talent so it was about applying [ourselves] during the game scenarios. I think the players stood up, and each and everyone contributed. That’s the environment we’ve created with the coaching staff,” Shanaka said.
“Before coming to the game, we knew that 170 would be a good score on this wicket because of the bowling we’ve got. As I mentioned earlier, we’ve got that variety in our line-up. It’s always tough to chase 170 in a final. There’s some mental aspect to it as well. I think the last six that Bhanu [Rajapaksa] hit was special as well,” Shanaka added.
One of the selection masterstrokes from Sri Lanka has been the inclusion of the fast bowler Pramod Madhshan. The 28-year-old hadn’t got a game until Friday’s fixture against Pakistan, where he returned figures of 2 for 21 – including the wicket of Mohammad Rizwan. Shanaka & Co. opted to retain him instead of Asitha Fernando for the final as well as reaped rewards as he rattled Pakistan early in their chase with the wickets of Babar Azam and Fakhar Zaman off consecutive deliveries in the fourth over. He was also the one who provided the next breakthrough – in the 14th over – to break Pakistan’s revival process in chase. He finished the final with figures of 4 for 34.
“He’s got promising skills. He’s a matured bowler so we knew him from the start of his domestic career. As a team we always have to take a risk to get a reward. So Madhushan, his skills were always there. I think he’s got a good career ahead. This was only his second game and he delivered. I am glad that he has rewarded us for the risk that we’ve taken,” Shanaka said.
Shanaka now hopes the victory in the Asia Cup will hold them in good stead at the T20 World Cup, where they have to cross the first round hurdle to get to the Super 12s. The Sri Lanka captain is not too worried about that and feels it will help them get used to the conditions better.
“We played the [World Cup] qualifiers last year as well. With the team that we’ve got, it’s a set up that came through from 3-4 years ago. Last two years have been really good for us I think. The momentum is there, and winning the Asia Cup will really help us going to the World Cup. Qualifiers will help as well because we’ll play in those conditions before the main tournament happens. It will be really good for us,” Shanaka said.