Sri Lanka beat Pakistan by 2 wickets; reach 11th Asia Cup final

The undeniable majesty of Kusal Mendis and Sadeera Samarawickrama followed by Charith Asalenka’s poise under pressure took Sri Lanka to their eleventh Asia Cup final in 16 editions of the tournament.

On the back of batters of class and equal aesthetic efficiency, Sri Lanka posted a 2-wicket (DLS) win over Pakistan at the R Premadasa Stadium on a game which started on Thursday and ended in the wee hours of Friday.

Not a single game in the Sri Lanka leg of the tournament has gone by without the groundsmen being called into action, and it was no different on Thursday.

The 3 pm game only kicked off at 5.15, and there was another rain delay at 7.32 pm. By the time Pakistan’s innings came to a close, even the eight-over cut didn’t seem enough as the clock read 9:21 pm.

While this stop-start trend could have played on the psyche of batters, Abdullah Shafique (52), Mohammad Rizwan (86 n.o.) and Iftikhar Ahmed (47) remained largely unaffected. That they managed to hold their own and reach 252 for 7 in 42 overs against Sri Lanka’s bowling unit is an impressive feat.

Still, the hosts did not help themselves by being wayward with 13 wides and a no-ball. But when they did find the target, they were a problem. Not one Pakistan couldn’t overcome eventually – the final score does reflect that – but it was irksome to put them away.

Luckily, this pitch was better than the one used on Monday against India: it didn’t turn square and it wasn’t sticky. The ball came on at an even pace and the bounce was fairly predictable too.

So, the bowlers needed to be far more disciplined than they had been against India, but to expect that from them when they had only twenty-four hours ago played another game wouldn’t be fair. In that sense, they did better than expected.

But, there was no stopping Rizwan. The 31-year-old wicketkeeper batter with incomprehensibly quick hands bide his time when Pakistan were down five batters for 130. Once in, though, he expanded his range. It helped that the brawny Iftikhar was adept at ensuring the run rate wouldn’t stagnate.

Sri Lanka’s riposte saw a couple of early wickets, but once Mendis and Samarawickrama got into their groove, Pakistan’s bowlers were barely able to check the flow of runs.

Despite this 100-run alliance, Sri Lanka were not out of the woods as Pakistan kept it tidy, and picked up the wickets of Samarawickrama, Mendis and Dasun Shanaka in fairly quick succession.

It eventually came down to 12 runs needed from 12 balls, and that’s why Asalanka’s unbeaten 49 mattered as much. Afridi did some damage, picking you up a couple of wickets in the penultimate over, leaving Sri Lanka with 8 runs to win from the last over.

Zaman Khan, the debutant, was on point, but a thick edge thick edge to third man and a quaint dink towards deep backward square for a two to close out the game off the very last ball. It was Asalanka’s moment in the sun, while Pakistan looked a distraught bunch.

Now, only India stand in the way of Sri Lanka’s seventh title.

Brief scoresPakistan: 252/7 in 42 overs (Abdullah Shafique 52, Babar Azam 29, Mohammad Rizwan 86 n.o., Iftikhar Ahmed 47; Pramod Madushan 2-58, Matheesha Pathirana 3-65) to Sri Lanka: 252/8 in 42 overs (Pathum Nissanka 29, Kusal Mendis 91, Sadeera Samarawickrama 48, Charith Asalank 49 n.o.; Iftikhar Ahmed 3-50, Afridi 2-52).

Result: Sri Lanka won by 2 wickets.

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