Sri Lanka bounced back from an embarrassing opening defeat by Afghanistan to win the Asia Cup for a sixth time, overpowering Pakistan by 23 runs at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Sunday.
The victory for the island nation, which had to abandon plans to host the competition due to political unrest, comes as a curtain-raiser for T20 World Cup, which will be held in Australia next month.
Bhanuka Rajapaksa’s unbeaten 71 and Wanindu Hasaranga’s key contributions with both and ball fired Sri Lanka to their sixth Asia Cup title after Pakistan skipper Babar Azam won the toss and choose to field first, as nine of the previous 12 matches won by the teams chasing.
Sri Lanka bucked the trend as they overcame an inspired opening spell of bowling by Pakistan quicks Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf. Player-of-the-match Rajapaksa put on a key 58-run stand for the sixth wicket with Hasaranga, who hit 36 after being in trouble at 58-5.
The pair rebuilt the innings and regularly found the boundary to up the scoring rate. Rauf dismissed Hasaranga, who hit five fours and one six in his 21-ball knock, caught behind for his 50th T20 wicket to break the dangerous stand.
Rajapaksa kept up the attack and survived a dropped catch by Shadab Khan in the deep, soon reaching his third T20 half-century. He finished the innings with a four and six off Naseem in his 45-ball blitz, and Chamika Karunaratne put on 54 runs take the total to 170-6.
Pacer Pramod Madushan (4-34) and Hasaranga (3-27) shared seven wickets between them to bowl out Pakistan for 147, while chasing 171. Dilshan Madushanka bowled a shaky opening over, starting with a no-ball and four wides, but the left-arm quick swiftly made amends.
Playing just his second T20, Madushanka had Azam caught at short fine-leg for five and then bowled Fakhar Zaman for a golden duck the following delivery. Mohammad Rizwan (55) and Iftikhar (32) put together a partnership of 71 but Madushan broke the stand.
Rizwan, who surpassed India’s Virat Kohli as the highest run-getter of the tournament with 282, reached his fifty with a six off Chamika Karunaratne but soon fell to Hasaranga’s leg-spin and the wheels came off the chase.
“We improved a lot coming into the final,” Sri Lanka captain Dasun Shanaka said looking back at their campaign which began with a loss against Afghanistan. “I think it happened for a good reason. After that we had a serious discussion with all the players,” he added.
“We dominated the first eight overs but that [Rajapaksa-Hasaranga] partnership proved crucial,” Pakistan captain Babar said. “As a batting unit, we did not do according to our potential, and with the ball, we could not finish well and conceded 15-20 extra runs.”
The victory would taste even better for Sri Lanka, who could not host the tournament at home because of a political and economic crisis in the island nation though they retained the hosts’ honour.