We have heard about Imran Khan’s cornered tigers. Facing early elimination from the 1992 World Cup after an horrendous campaign, the former Pakistan captain promised to fight like ‘cornered tigers’ and fight they did, knocking off the in form New Zealand, tournament favourites in their own backyard before overcoming England in the final at the MCG.
Dasun Shanaka’s Sri Lankan side has fought like cornered lions. Written off as not a world class team, they delivered three mighty blows to knock off three contenders including India, who were the favourites to win the title.
The organizers had expected an India-Pakistan final. Three games involving the nuclear armed arch-rivals would have seen television revenues going through the roof. But the young, unfancied Sri Lankan side turned all predictions upside down to become the first team to go through to the finals.
Their first game against Afghanistan went awfully wrong where the batting was blown away and a total of 105 proved to be too insignificant for the Afghans, plunging Sri Lanka’s net run rate beyond redemption. An exit looked on the cards for the five time champions. But cricket is such a funny game that all predictions can go wrong very quickly.
When Bangladesh posted 183 in the next game, they had the game in the bag as no team had chased that many successfully in Dubai. When Dasun Shanka was dismissed, it looked like game over with 24 needed in the last two overs with three wickets in hand. Then there was a twist in the tale as some meaty blows by Asitha Fernando saw Bangladesh catching an early flight to Dhaka.
Next up it was Afghanistan again, whose fate was sealed by the Sri Lankan boys with another record run chase, this time in Sharjah.
The best, however, was reserved for this week when India were sent packing with another thrilling run chase. All three Sri Lankan wins were sealed in the last over with the fans in UAE on the edge of their seats while those at home were overwhelmed that tournament favourites had been knocked off.
It remains to be seen though how Sri Lanka will fare batting first. That’s something for Dasun Shanaka too to think about and batting first in the dead rubber on Friday wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Kusal Mendis has been the standout performer with a couple of match winning half-centuries. While most teams chose a dasher to open the innings, Sri Lanka have gone the opposite direction. In Pathum Nissanka they have their anchor while Mendis finds the boundaries with some strokes that are pleasing to the eye.
Dasun Shanaka and Bhanuka Rajapaksa have done their finishing role well, pulling off some thrillers. If Danushka Gunathilaka fires on all cylinders and Charith Asalanka comes out of his poor form, Sri Lanka will not only have a good campaign in UAE but will be a force to be reckoned with in the World Cup later this year, although they’ve got to play a qualifying round.
Dilshan Madushanka has been the talk of the town with some outstanding left-arm fast bowling. He’s been lethal with the new ball and the manner in which he cleaned up Virat Kohli was a treat to watch and we are going to see lot more of that moving forward. The 22-year-old has been highly rated by the local coaches and he’s got a bright future ahead of him.
A salient feature in Sri Lanka’s campaign is that their key bowler Wanindu Hasaranga has not had much of an impact. He’s claimed just three wickets in four games and hasn’t taken a wicket in the last two encounters. That shows that oppositions are giving him the due respect and the important thing is that if Sri Lanka are coming up with match winning performances when Wanindu hasn’t made an impact, imagine what they can do on his day.
Will Sri Lanka give some of their reserves a go today or would they want to maintain the momentum and go full strength against a Pakistan side that had a similar campaign like theirs starting off with a defeat and then gaining momentum? That remains to be seen.
India’s won six Asia Cups in all while Sri Lanka will be equaling that record if they win the title in Dubai on Sunday. Pakistan will be looking for their third title.
Sri Lanka’s last victory came in the 2014 edition in Bangladesh and since then it’s been all downhill for the men in dark blue. Thankfully things are turning around. The team has done a lot of things right in the last two years picking a young team and backing them. The faith that has been kept on the current lot and trusting the captain has enabled them to reach new highs.