In the end, there were warm hugs and huge grins. Sri Lanka finally exorcised the ghosts of losing finals by beating Pakistan by five wickets in the Asia Cup. They had lost the Asia Cup 2010 and World Cup 2011 finals.
In the 2011 final, against India at Mumbai, the elegant Mahela Jayawardene struck a century for a lost cause. But on Saturday, he did not go empty-handed. He ensured Lanka clinched the Asia Cup for the fifth time. In pursuit of 261 runs, Lanka romped home in 46.2 overs.
The sleek Jayawardene (93-ball 75), along with the solid Lahiru Thirimanne (101 off 108 balls, 13x4) and speedster Lasith Malinga (5 for 56), were the architects of Lanka’s successful campaign. It overshadowed 28-year-old Fawad Alam’s gritty 109 not out.
Jayawardene’s reputation had gone for a beating in the recent IPL auction with none of the teams bidding for him. But the 36-year-old put back all those disappointments and returned to his old self. Helping Jayawardene, was left-handed opener Thirimanne, who came up with second consecutive century against Pakistan and finished as the tournament’s highest run-getter. The third wicket pair added 156 runs to extend Lanka’s unbeaten winning streak in Bangladesh.
Kusal Perera and Thirimanne set up the win with a scintillating stand of 56 runs. The aggressive Perera (42 off 37 balls) timed the ball superbly. But the ever-reliable Saeed Ajmal stopped the Lankans with successive balls. Perera was foxed by a beauty to be stumped while Sangakkara was deceived by a doosra to be lbw. The onus was on Jayawardene and he delivered. After surviving a close lbw shout against Shahid Afridi, the Lankan veteran unleashed a flurry of elegant strokes. The drives, late cuts and pulls all showed class.
Judging the slow wicket to a nicety, Thirimanne continued his wonderful form. He was immaculate with his timing and placement. Jayawardene had a slice of luck after reaching his half-century as Mohammad Hafeez grassed a catch at deep mid-wicket. This ended Pakistan’s fight back. The bowling became ragged and so did the fielding.
Earlier, playing in his 29th ODI, Alam rescued Pakistan. Before the Asia Cup, he last played against South Africa in 2010. Thereafter, he was in the wilderness. Picked from wilderness, he was not even considered for the first three matches. But luck came his way when Sharjeel Khan was not fit for the Bangladesh match and Alam was drafted into the side. And he made the opportunities count.
Pakistan were in trouble when he arrived, as had reduced them to 18 for 3 in 4.3 overs. The Lankan bowled straight, moved the ball a bit of the seam and rattled Pakistan’s top-order. Left-hander Sharjeel, Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez were back in the pavilion in no time.
It was a big setback for Pakistan as the top three had been main run-getters in this tournament. But then came Alam and skipper Misbah-ul-Haq, who was twice run out in this tournament. He acted as a good foil to left-hander Alam. They were unsure and nervous at the start, as the Lankan bowlers bowled with a lot of discipline. Both Perera and Mathews shackled the two before Misbah broke free with a six over mid-wicket.
Both gained in confidence and added 122 runs for the fourth wicket. Misbah, who clouted three sixes, fell to Malinga, who returned for his second spell. The bowler obliged broke the stand with the wicket of Misbah.
But Alam went on. His pulls and drives were murderous. He reached his century with a beautiful six over mid-wicket. Together with Umar Akmal, he punished the Lankan attack. Akmal produced a cameo (59 off 42) and added 115 runs for the fifth-wicket.
Malinga in history books with rare feat
Sri Lanka pace spearhead Lasith Malinga set a rare record of claiming all five wickets in an innings of a One-Day International (ODI) match. For India, the nearest feat is Ashish Nehra’s six for 59 in the final of the Indian Oil Cup against Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka made was 281-9, which included three run-outs.
Pakistan: Sharjeel c Thisara b Malinga 8, Shehzad c Sangakkara b Malinga 5, Hafeez c Sangakkara b Malinga 3, Misbah c Perera b Malinga 65, Alam (not out) 114, U Akmal c b Malinga 59, Afridi (not out) 0, Extras (lb1, w5) 6, Total (for five wkts; 50 overs) 260. Fall of wickets: 1-8, 2-17, 3-18, 4-140, 5-255. Bowling: Malinga 10-0-56-5, Lakmal 10-2-41-0, Senanayake 9-0-54-0, Thisara 10-1-66-0, Mathews 7-1-23-0, de Silva 4-0-19-0.
Sri Lanka: Kusal st Akmal b Ajmal 42, Thirimanne b Ajmal 101, Sangakkara lbw Ajmal 0, Jayawardene c Sharjeel b Talha 75, Priyanjan c Akmal b Sharjeel 13, Mathews (not out) 16, De Silva (not out) 6, Extras (b1, lb1, nb1, w5) 8, Total (for five wkts; 46.2 overs) 261. Fall of wickets: 1-56, 2-56, 3-212, 4-233, 5-247. Bowling: Hafeez 9-0-42-0, Gul 6-0-44-0, Sharjeel 9-0-56-1, Ajmal 10-2-26-3, Talha 6.2-0-56-1, Afridi 6-0-35-0.