The architects of Sri Lankan victory — Lasith Malinga, who took five wickets and centurion Lahiru Thirimanne — in Mirpur, on Saturday
Mirpur: For four finals, all World Cups, Sri Lanka lived with the disappointment of being the second best. Saturday’s match was restricted to continental boundaries and it didn’t really enjoy a global status, but it still gave the Lankans the joy of overcoming their ‘final’ jinx.
That is the reason why Sri Lanka’s Asia Cup triumph had an added significance. After failed attempts in the finals of the 2007 and 2011 ODI World Cups, and the 2009 and 2012 World T20s, here was a final in which the island nation had the last laugh.
Despite perhaps being the most consistent team in the last decade or so, Sri Lanka were somehow not being able to give the finishing touch to their hard work.
The Asia Cup may not be the most coveted title in the world of cricket, but with the World T20 just days way, Sri Lanka can now hope that Saturday’s glory is a prelude to bigger hurrahs.
Sri Lanka cantered to a five-wicket victory over Pakistan with 22 balls still remaining in their innings. Pakistan, who had pulled off a couple of thrillers on their way to the final, were thoroughly outplayed at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium.
Lasith Malinga (5/56) and Lahiru Thirimanne (101) were architects of Lanka’s victory. Malinga ensured Pakistan stumbled at the very onset of their innings, Thirimanne made sure that the Lankans had a relatively smooth ride in their 261-run chase.
Also notable were the contributions of Mahela Jayawardene (75) and Kusal Perera (42).
Unlike Pakistan, Sri Lanka had a sound start as Kusal and Thirimanne put up a 56-run opening wicket stand. But there was a mini scare when Saeed Ajmal dismissed Kusal and Kumar Sangakkara off successive deliveries in the 11th over.
But Thirimanne and Mahela didn’t let the situation go out of their hands. As a result, Pakistan had to wait for 27-odd overs to get the third wicket. By then, Sri Lanka had crossed the 200 mark and had enough wickets and overs in hand to reach the target.
Malinga was adjudged the Man of the Match while Thirimanne was the Man of the Series.
Earlier, so good was Malinga that Pakistan were tottering at 18 for three after the first five overs. But then, the last five overs of the innings cost the Lankans 58 runs while Pakistan lost only one wicket in that period.
So in the end, Pakistan’s total of 260 for five in 50 overs was more of a tale of recovery. Left-handed Fawad Alam played the lead role, with Misbah-ul Haq and Umar Akmal were the supporting characters.
Fawad went on to score an unbeaten century — 114 not out — while Misbah (65) and Akmal (59) helped the team with half-centuries.
Malinga gave the islanders a dream start, taking three wickets in his first three overs. Pakistan opener Sharjeel Khan (8) looked confident when he punched Malinga for two boundaries on the off-side in the very first over of the match. But he succumbed to his flamboyance as an attempted flick off the last delivery of the same over was caught at mid-on.
But the dismissal didn’t affect the approach of the Pakistan batsmen as they kept going for their shots. As a result, they didn’t respect the fact that the nippy Malinga was getting a pretty handful swing off the track.
Two more wickets perished. Ahmed Sehzad (5) fell in the third over while Mohammed Hafeez (3) was out in the fifth.
The runs dried up and the pair of Misbah and Fawad had to work hard scoring mostly in singles. They couldn’t affect a glamourous run-rate immediately, but the duo’s patience ensured that Pakistan didn’t lose another wicket till the 37th over.
They shared a 122-run partnership — the foundation on which Pakistan bolstered their total which could have easily been sub-200 because of the poor start they had.
One wonders, whether Mendis’s presence could have helped Lanka pick up wickets in the middle overs. The runs didn’t flow, but wickets didn’t fall either and it gave Pakistan the courage to slog it towards the end. So from 125 for three in 35 overs, they managed to reach 202 for four after the 45th.