It was a case of history repeating itself when India beat Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup final at Dambulla on Thursday. What I mean history here is, when both teams met in the final the last time, Sri Lanka batted first and India was done by Mendis. And then n the game before the final it was India who out played the Lankans.
As such the sequence of events has been the same. And also on both occasions the team winning the final lost in their previous encounter and the team batting first won the final! The only difference was the two teams had swapped places! Sri Lanka was the reigning Champs whilst India won the crown this time around!
In fairness the toss was vital and batting under lights was a huge challenge. But what was disappointing was the manner Sri Lanka lost wickets and caved in. I am sure that skipper Sangakkara will be the first to admit that it was one of their off days with the bat though the timing for such a situation wasn’t ideal as it was the Asia cup final.
Kapugedera played a very mature inning.
For starters I definitely felt that the target of 269 with the strong batting available to Sri Lanka was gettable though it would need a very concerted effort. But the start they had with Dilshan’s dismissal wasn’t the ideal which in the long run proved to be a critical factor. One felt that Dilshan was a bit too hasty in going for a pull early on in the innings though it is the way he generally sets about building his innings. Whilst in that context he cannot be faulted as he always wanted to back his thinking, though it shouldn’t be forgotten at the same breath that Dilshan’s wicket would mean a huge bonus and a psychological advantage to the opponents. From that moment onwards the way both Praveen Kumar and Zahir Khan bowled backed by Ashish Nehra could be described as top class and at times even unplayable. Their control and pace was excellent which meant that the Sri Lankan batting had to put in that much more hard work to remain in the contest.
The manner Tharanga and Sangakkara set about repairing the damage was the correct way to go until Tharanga was done by a delivery which swung back. However the hardest blow to strike Sri Lanka was the dismissal of two of their top batsmen and possibly the most reliable Jayawardane and Mathews in the same over of Nehra. Whilst Jayawardane got a delivery that bounced at pace, Mathews dismissal was definitely unnecessary as he got drawn to a delivery that was well wide of his off stump. But one must definitely spare a thought for young Mathews who had up to that innings batted with absolute responsibility and it wasn’t going to be a great surprise if he faltered in an innings or two. And here again it was unfortunate that it had to be in the final.
Let me also add that Sri Lanka had enough experience to understand the conditions. And all they needed to do was weather the early storm, and had they settled in, chasing 269 was definitely on the cards. This was evident in the manner both Kandamby and Kapugedara batted lower in the order. Under very difficult and demanding batting conditions both these players batted with great maturity and temperament and Kandamby did show all of us his potential despite the limited opportunities he has had. Though he did take time over his innings he was looking to get his foot on the accelerator when he was rather needlessly run out.
And as far as Kapugedara was concerned it was another hugely positive performance. Once again it was his talent and potential that was on display! Many have witnessed Kapugedara throwing his wicket away in much easier and friendlier batting conditions. And compared to such situations in the past, batting on Thursday in the final was definitely much tougher and it needed somebody gutsy and special to come up with that special effort. And it was Kapugedara and to a lesser extent Kandamby who provided it for the Lankans.
If that was the story on batting I thought Malinga, Murali and Kulasekera were top class with the ball. Whilst it was Murali who stemmed the flow of runs in the middle overs, the efforts of Malinga and Kulasekera in the final batting power play was an exceptional performance. One must definitely accept that Sri Lankans has a crop of world class operators with the ball be it pace or spin. Also let’s remember that Lasith Malinga with his unique brand of bowling will be the key in the Lankan bowling armory, as he has developed so much of variety capable of dismissing batsmen, which is a positive gain in Sri Lanka cricket.
Despite the said positives I must admit that it was unfortunate for Sri Lanka not to have won the Asia Cup in their own back yard as they looked the best team from day one! It would have also served as a great confidence booster too with the world cup looming, though it was not to be and sadly the Lankans ending up the second best. The selectors headed by Aravinda De Silva are sure to be disappointed as much as the players for not winning the Asia cup though I feel it should not be considered a setback for Sri Lanka’s world cup chances! It should rather be seen as a timely wake up call to ensure that the correct combination is picked and they will be set and ready to do the honours when the moment of truth arrives!
* Roshan Abeysinghe is a leading cricket promoter and an international cricket commentator