Before the summit clash of Asia Cup 2022 between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, no team in the tournament had won in Dubai after losing the toss and being inserted into bat. However, in the final, Sri Lanka put on a gritty performance after losing the toss and posted a memorable 23-run win.
Pakistan head coach Saqlain Mushtaq praised Sri Lanka and pointed out that they won both their games against his team in the tournament – while bowling first as well as batting first. “If you’re a champion team, you need to be a champion irrespective of whether it’s first innings or second innings,” Saqlain said at the press conference. “In the previous game, they asked us to bat first and won. In this game, we batted second and they still won. The way they played in both games, it’s well-deserved.”
One of the narratives of Pakistan’s chase was Mohammad Rizwan’s 49-ball 55. Although Rizwan helped Pakistan to recover after the loss of early wickets, the narrative surrounding his innings was he couldn’t press the accelerator pedal and eventually left too much to do for the rest of the batters. When Rizwan was dismissed by Wanindu Hasaranga, Pakistan needed 61 from 23 balls. Saqlain, however, defended Rizwan and said each player has his own method.
“Every team and player has their own style and method.The way we played, we reached semi-finals of the T20 World Cup last year, we got to the final of an Asia Cup here. Evidence suggests you’re doing something right to get here. It’s not compulsory that you do what the rest of the world is doing [in terms of strike rates and showing more intent with the bat]. We’d rather focus on the small things we aren’t doing right instead of looking at what others are doing. His andaaz [method] is not bad.”
Saqlain also backed Pakistan skipper Babar Azam and noted that he had a few unlucky dismissals in the tournament. Babar scored only 68 runs in six innings in the Asia Cup. “I said it earlier too, if someone looks at his batting, you’d just say he’s unlucky, especially the way he’s getting out. It’s just a patch. If you look at the rankings, he’s top in T20Is and in ODIs. It’s just been bad luck. The way he’s training and playing it’s amazing. His work ethic is top notch. I don’t need to say more.
When a question was asked in relation to whether Pakistan could have promoted Fakhar Zaman to start the innings with a left-hand-right-hand combination, Saqlain observed shuffling the batting unit would have indicated to the players that the think tank doesn’t trust them. “You need to show faith, trust and belief. If you keep shuffling, it sends a message that you don’t trust them. After the second match itself, there was chatter about our batting shuffle. I don’t follow social media, but you do hear the murmurs. You need to give time. If you keep shuffling, how will you know? Whatever we did, it’s not good to shuffle a lot. It sends a wrong message.”
Sri Lanka didn’t just put on a gritty show with the ball but also recovered from a precariously placed 58 for 5. The foundation of that recovery was laid by Bhanuka Rajapksa, who cracked a brilliant 45-ball 71. “The way they played today, we played just nine overs of good cricket. After that they dominated for 31 overs in all aspects,” Saqlain said. “They have been playing brilliant cricket; credit goes to all the boys. Looks like they are on top of the world. The way they played against India and got momentum against Afghanistan, a lot of praise for all of them.
“I’ll credit the Sri Lankans. We’d broken their backbone in the first nine overs, but the way Rajapaksa played, and the others rallied around him, no praise is enough. I’m sure it should be the best innings of his [Rajapaksa’s] life. The way he lifted them, hats off.”
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