Sri Lanka beat Pakistan in Asia Cup final to complete fairytale

Sri Lanka waited until it was all over, until the fireworks shot into the sky and until the golden confetti sparkled in their hair. A victory was ensured off the second ball of the last over, practically even before, at the fall of Mohammad Rizwan, but they waited until the last ball was bowled, stifling their excitement and joy.

At that moment, the exact moment when Sri Lanka beat Pakistan by 23 runs to lift their sixth Asia Cup, half a dozen players clambered into the stands to take flags from the crowd, sprinted around the stadium, waving them in glee. Up high, the coaching staff were cutting loose — leaping to their feet, punching the air.

The players released all their emotions, came rushing out in waves and danced and ran in circles, pulsing with adrenaline. They ran like children — arms stretched wide, faces lit up with joy — running with nowhere in mind. There was a glorious mayhem, a feeling that all of this was just a dream and not a slice of reality.
Only a fortnight ago had they landed here as outsiders. After the first match, a shuddering defeat at the hands of Afghanistan, they were written off. They scraped and sneaked past opponents, clawed to stay in contention with the intensity of a team that knew this chance would not come again. So arduous has been their path. But they gathered an unstoppable momentum towards the backend. Handing out successive thrashings to Pakistan, before passing every test they were made to pass through.

Compared to the nervy finishes they had to cling onto, the final was a stroll. There were nervous moments, like a shoddy start, a middle-order collapse, confusion when Mohammad Rizwan and Iftikhar Ahmed were retaliating, but they had seen so much worse that nothing daunted them. Not at all when Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan combined for 22 runs, chasing 171. But disaster struck in the fourth over, when Pramod Madusan, featuring in just his second T20 game, snuffed out Babar Azam and Fakhar Zaman off successive deliveries. Babar, who had been enduring a difficult tournament, just guided a leg-side ball to the fine-leg fielder hugging the inner circle. A less wristy batsman would have flayed it over midwicket, but Babar looked to glide it. The next ball did not scream a wicket either. But the in-between length confused Zaman and his late decision to push at the ball saw him just drag the ball onto the stumps.

Sri Lanka were emanating a relentless streak of energy, attacking the stumps, ratcheting up the intensity on the field, flinging their body on the grass. The crowd, with drums and whistles in tow, heaving and swaying in the stands, transported Dubai into a mini Colombo. But Pakistan had not yet surrendered, they seldom do fold up without a fight. Not least when Mohammad Rizwan is around. He waged a lonely battle, soaked the pressure and aggression, counterpunched and raised hops of a comeback. A comeback of epic, nay Pakistani proposition, it seemed before they imploded in typical Pakistani fashion. Four wickets they lost in the space of 19 balls, those of Ifthikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Nawaz and Mohammad Rizwan. This time, though, there was no scope for a comeback of epic scale.

The chief tormenter was, yet again, Wanindu Hasaranga. He ejected Rizwan, the biggest and the only hope. After piling on the pressure, he lured him into indiscretion with a tossed up ball. Rizwan sensed a chance — Pakistan required a run rate of nearly 11 runs an over to win the game — and he chose to slog-sweep. Few batsmen succeed in slog-sweeping him because he is masterful at changing pace and lengths. This one was faster and slightly fuller than Rizwan had expected, besides he had to drag this ball from outside the off-stump. Invariably, he ended up slicing the ball in the air. The next ball was pure magic, as his wonderfully tossed up wrong’un ripped through Asif Ali’s expansive slog sweep. In a twinkle, they plummeted to 111/6 and then 125/9.

But the difference was not Hasaranga alone. Or for that matter any individual. There were many in this tournament — from the marvellous captain Dasun Shanaka and reinvented Kusal Mendis to newbie Pramod Madushan to left-arm seamer and Dilshan Madhushanka. Or the reliable Pathum Nissanka. It was a victory of the virtues that make this team. Sri Lanka simply had more drive and energy. Losing the toss and asked to bat first did not daunt them, despite the fact that they have won all their four games in the series chasing on a ground where eighteen of the last 21 games were won by teams batting first. They were the better fielders, leapt onto catches and aborted boundaries with a tigerish flourish.

On the other hand, Pakistan spilled catches, let boundaries slip through them and collided with teammates. They endured top-order and middle-order collapses but they did not wilt. As has been the recurring theme, a hero would emerge out of nowhere. It was Bhanuka Rajapaksa’s turn this time to be the hero with his unbeaten 71.

Chamika Karunaratne revealed as much. “One and a half years ago, we were nowhere. Now we are a different team with youngsters. I feel so good. We promised to fight and show ourselves. There was a lot of hard work. Players pushed their limits. They pushed themselves every time,” he said after the game. Etched in the sands of Dubai is their tale of sweat and tears of joy.




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