Sri Lanka 252 for 8 (Mendis 91, Asalanka 49*, Ifthikar 3-50) beat Pakistan 252 for 7 (Rizwan 86*, Shafique 52, Pathirana 3-65) by two wickets via DLS method
In a game of multiple compelling storylines, it was Charith Asalanka who stood tall in the end as Sri Lanka edged Pakistan out by two wickets in final-ball thriller in Colombo. With it, Sri Lanka made it to their 11th Asia Cup final, where they will face India on Sunday.
Asalanka remained unbeaten on 49 off 47 balls to see home a nervy chase, but it was a win built on Kusal Mendis‘ 91 from 87 deliveries and Sadeera Samarawickrama‘s 48 off 51. Pakistan will look back at what might’ve been, as their injury-hit attack fought tooth and nail, and almost secured an unlikely come-from-behind win.
Set a DLS-adjusted target of 252 in a rain-shortened 42-over game, Sri Lanka needed six an over from the get-go, but in Mendis and Samarawickrama, they had two in-form batters of the tournament at their disposal. During their 100-run third-wicket stand, the game seemed Sri Lanka’s to lose, as they knocked over the singles while also finding boundaries when required.
Indeed, one of the features of the chase was that Sri Lanka never ran away with it, while at the same time keeping the required rate always at six or below. While this exuded a sense of control, it was also what allowed Pakistan the opening late in the game.
Both Samarawickrama and Mendis fell against the run of play, each dismissed by the excellent Iftikhar Ahmed, who finish with figures of 3 for 50 in eight overs. Samarawickrama came down the track and missed an arm ball to be stumped, while Mendis chipped a leading edge for Mohammed Haris to take a blinder at short extra cover, diving full length and grasping it centimetres off the ground.
Sri Lanka needed 42 off 41 balls at this point with six wickets in hand, and while Dasun Shanaka fell shortly after, Dhananjaya de Silva kept Asalanka company as the requirement was whittled down to 12 from 12 deliveries with five wickets in hand at the start of the penultimate over.
Enter Shaheen Shah Afridi, who had had an absolutely mediocre game up until then by his standards – eight overs bowled, 48 runs conceded, and no wickets taken. Six balls later, Sri Lanka were seven down, and another eight away with six balls remaining, as in the penultimate over, Afridi first had Dhananjaya caught at long-on off a low full toss, and then Dunith Wellalage nick behind looking to heave one across the line.
Then enter Zaman Khan, the slinger who had had a forgettable debut until then. His five overs had gone for 32, and Babar Azam had resisted the urge to bring him on earlier, instead opting to save him for just such a moment. Zaman had given eight runs in his last over, and needed to save eight in the final over of the chase.
He allowed tailender Pramod Madushan off strike first ball, but then Asalanka incredibly took a single off the third, leaving Madushan on strike with six needed from three. Pakistan had found a way into the game, and then an attempt to run a bye as the ball rolled away to the wicketkeeper saw a chaotic mix-up between Madushan and Asalanka. Thus, Madushan was run-out at the non-striker’s end. Sri Lanka, who were also a batter short after Maheesh Theekshana had suffered a hamstring injury in the field, then needed six from the two deliveries, and Pakistan were suddenly ahead.
But then lady luck shone on Sri Lanka, as Asalanka edged a swipe between the wicketkeeper and short third for four. Two from one left – with a Super Over on the cards – but Asalanka turned an attempted yorker behind square leg, as Sri Lanka and a packed Premadasa Stadium breathed a heaving sigh of relief.
It was hardly the expected finish when the day had started with whether there would be any play at all. Heavy rain had seen the start delayed by nearly two hours, with Pakistan particularly dreading further interventions as only a win would suffice for them in terms of qualifying for the final. And when the rain inevitably arrived again, midway through their innings, it proved to be the catalyst for a nearly match-winning resurgence.
The match had begun with 45 overs a side, and Babar electing to bat, a decision that wouldn’t seem to be the wisest for a chunk of their innings, as the Sri Lankan bowlers throttled the middle overs as well as the opening exchanges. The first five overs brought a wicket and only 13 runs, while by the end of the tenth, Pakistan had just about crept up to 40. It was at this point that a brief period of acceleration took place, with Abdullah Shafique and Babar running well and finding regular boundaries.
But when Babar lost balance to one that beat the bat off Wellalage, he found himself stumped for the fourth time in ODIs this year. This once more slowed down proceedings as Sri Lanka chipped away at Pakistan’s soft underbelly. However, Shafique reached a maiden ODI fifty, but threw his wicket away by top-edging a pull off Matheesha Pathirana to deep square leg.
Mohammad Rizwan was the only batter who looked to show any sort of intent in this period, but he too survived a couple of close calls, either of which, had they been taken, would have sharply changed the trajectory of the innings – and possibly the match.
The first was a stumping opportunity, as he fell over trying to flick an arm ball from Dhananjaya; fortunately for Rizwan, Mendis behind the stumps couldn’t gather cleanly. The second was a missed sweep that popped up off the glove towards a vacant short leg, with Mendis diving full length to his left but agonisingly short of getting his gloves under it.
At the other end though the wickets kept tumbling, as Pakistan found themselves at 130 for 5 in 27.4 overs when the rains intervened for a second time. While the ground staff had been ready with the covers several overs prior, the umpires let play continue through a light drizzle in the hope that it would be a passing shower. This, though, soon turned out to a brief but heavy downpour which saw significant parts of the ground – and crucially the pitch – get soaked.
While play got underway with only a 30-minute stoppage, the impact of that brief downpour would be felt for the rest of the game. Not only had the match been reduced to 42 overs a side, but also the grip and turn which the spinners had been exploiting had all but vanished. In its place was a ball that was skidding through on to the bat.
Rizwan, who had been treading water prior to the rain break in reaching 22 off his first 30 balls, got to his half-century off only another 18 deliveries. He took a particular liking to Madushan, who was playing his first game of the tournament in place of Kasun Rajitha. Madushan had been miserly in his opening four-over spell of 1 for 16, but on his return in the 34th over, Rizwan greeted him with a nonchalant slap over deep midwicket.
Madushan then compounded matters later in the over by overstepping – followed by two wides – only to be swatted down the ground by Iftikhar off the free hit. All in all, the over would go for 18, and it signalled the start of Pakistan’s death-overs onslaught.
The final ten overs of Pakistan’s innings eventually ended up yielding 102 runs, with Rizwan ending unbeaten on 86 from 73 balls. Iftikhar provided the ideal supporting act at the other end with a solid 47 off 40. The pair put on 108 off 78 deliveries for the sixth wicket.
Sri Lanka’s bowlers, meanwhile, struggled, especially with their star spinner Theekshana hobbling through his final set of overs with a hamstring strain – he would later be sent for scans, and be unavailable to bat – while Wellalage too was unable to provide the same wicket-taking heroics he had showcased against India. But for once, it was their batters who would bail them out.