Sri Lanka has been one of the hardest teams to beat in Asia. They have won the Asia Cup five times out of 14 editions held prior. It reminds the way how the Sri Lankans have dominated the regional tournament over the years. However, leading into the 15th edition of Asia Cup, the cricketing fraternity [...]


A reason to rejoice


Sri Lanka has been one of the hardest teams to beat in Asia. They have won the Asia Cup five times out of 14 editions held prior. It reminds the way how the Sri Lankans have dominated the regional tournament over the years.

However, leading into the 15th edition of Asia Cup, the cricketing fraternity in the country barely had expectations about the team’s chances of winning, considering their recent poor run in the shortest format of the game.

Dasun Shanaka and his team had lost all three T20 International series played this year. This tournament was even more significant as it was Sri Lanka’s final assignment before the T20 World Cup scheduled to be held in Australia in October.

Farveez Maharoof, who has been observing the progress of the national team as an international cricket expert, believed that the Lankans performed beyond expectations and it was refreshing to see the quality of cricket that was played throughout the tournament.

“If we closely analyse our performances in the shortest format of the game this year, we had won only two out of 11 matches, which is not the record a team would like to have leading up to a knockout tournament such as the Asia Cup. But now when we recall the events that had transpired during the competition, it was a team effort and they should be commended for what they achieved after eight long years,” recapped Maharoof.

Sri Lanka’s journey to Asia Cup glory was initially a bumpy ride. Days before the national team’s departure for the six nation tournament, their preparations were hampered by injuries to their frontline fast bowlers Dushmantha Chameera, Binura Fernando and Kasun Rajitha. They were replaced by two debutants, Asitha Fernando Dilshan Madushanka and
Pramod Madushan.

Sri Lanka commenced their campaign against Afghanistan and it was supposed to be an exciting contest as both teams were equally balanced, making it difficult for the cricket experts to predict a winner.

Unfortunately it was a dismal start for hosts Sri Lanka, as a spirited bowling performance by Afghanistan spearheaded by left-arm paceman Fazalhaq Farooqi, who took three wickets. The rest of the wickets were shared between spinners Mujeeb Ur Rahman and captain Mohammad Nabi and fast bowler Naveen Ul-Haq restricting Sri Lanka to a dismal 105. The Afghans chased down the target in just 10.1 overs.

Out of nowhere the Lankans were on the brink of elimination as a result of the humiliating defeat, which meant it was a knockout clash between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Tough decisions had to be taken ahead of the game against Bangladesh, and the team management decided to exclude Matheesha Pathirana and bring in Asitha Fernando, an emerging prospect at Test level.

Throughout the year Sri Lanka’s batting performance were below par and it was interesting to see how the batters will cope with the pressure of chasing a mammoth score of 184. Throughout the chase, the pendulum was swinging towards both teams. Veteran Bangladesh wicketkeeper Mushfiqur Rahim dropped five catches, which provided some breathing space for Sri Lankan batsmen, especially Kusal Mendis, who scored 60 runs off 37 balls.

However, the game dragged into the final over and it was Asitha Fernando who scored 10 runs off three balls and kept Sri Lanka’s hopes alive in the tournament. Maharoof regarded Fernando as an unsung hero, following his heroics and that was when fortunes began to change for the Lankans.

One of the major positives for Sri Lanka has been their consistency with the bat, as they chased three consecutive targets more than 170 — against Bangladesh, Afghanistan and India. Maharoof highlighted the fact that consistency of batsmen as one of the main reasons for Sri Lanka’s victorious Asia Cup campaign.

The opening combination of Kusal Mendis and Pathum Nissanka has been a resounding success with the duo scoring 328 runs at an average of 29.81, along with a strike rate of 131.71. The former national cricketer also commended Nissanka’s evolvement across the three formats. Nissanka scored 173 runs at an average 34.60

“I have observed Nissanka’s progress ever since he was a school cricketer. He is someone who Sri Lanka can rely on and he has proved that he is a versatile cricketer. And he is young. The selectors should back him and he should always bat in the top order. He has a bright future,” Maharoof explained.

Another area of improvement was the fast bowling department. None of Sri Lanka’s new ball bowlers — Pramod Madushan, Dilshan Madushanka, Asitha Fernando and Matheesha Pathirana — had played a T20I game before the Asia Cup. Madushanka and Madushan were the standout performers for Sri Lanka, bagging 12 wickets in the tournament.

The re-emergence of Bhanuka Rajapaksa was certainly the success story of the tournament. Two years ago he was omitted due to fitness concerns. In spite of being excluded from the national team, he continued to be consistent at domestic and franchise cricket. The turning point of Rajapaksa’s career has been the IPL stint with Punjab Kings this year, where he scored 206 runs at an average of 22.89 with an impressive strike rate of 159.69, which forced the selectors to include him into the T20 setup.

He did not let his team down during the Asia Cup. He scored 191 runs at an average of 47.75 including a match-winning knock of 71 runs off 45 balls for which was crowned as the man of the match in the final against Pakistan.

Maheesh Theekshana and Wanindu Hasaranga continued to impress. The duo shared 15 wickets between them. For Hasaranga’s heroics as an all-rounder, he was awarded the player of the series.

However there are some concerns as well. Charith Asalanka, who was the most consistent batsman for Sri Lanka during last year’s T20 World Cup seems to have lost confidence in his abilities in the shortest format of the game. He scored just nine runs in four matches. Similarly Danushka Gunathilaka also struggled. Maharoof noted that the selectors will have to take tough decisions with regard to future of Asalanka and Gunatilake in the T20 format.

Maharoof feels that being Asia Cup champions will be a confidence booster ahead of the T20 World Cup. It is pleasing to see the progress of skipper Dasun Shanaka, ever since he was appointed in July 2021, especially in the T20 format. He has led his country in 34 matches and has managed to keep a win percentage of 50. Along with the new coaching management led by Chris Silverwood, Shanaka and his young brigade have given the nation a reason to rejoice after eight long years.


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