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Sri Lanka: Defying All Odds to Attain Asia Cup 2022 Glory

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When the 15th edition of the Asia Cup began on the 27th of August, 2022, pretty much everyone’s favorite for the coveted trophy was India while Pakistan was a close second. Not even that, few even predicted Afghanistan and Bangladesh to be more likely to win it than Sri Lanka. The Lankans had literally 0% chance of winning the Cup as per everyone’s predictions, but what would unfold in the coming couple of weeks was sheer unpredictability.

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Even the Sri Lankan skipper Dasun Shanaka, in his pre-match interview, had said this. “When it comes to the favorites, India is a leading side at the moment but in T20 there are no favorites. On a day if we play good cricket, we can be the favorites as well.”

Asia Cup 2022 Tournament Structure

The tournament structure was a very interesting one with three teams split into two groups. The groups were as follows:

Group AGroup B

Afghanistan

India

Bangladesh

Pakistan

Sri Lanka

Hong Kong

The top two teams from each group would then move into a second round called the Super 4’s wherein each team plays each other once and the top two teams from there would contest the final.

1st Match: Sri Lanka v Afghanistan

It was only the second time that Sri Lanka were meeting Afghanistan in a T20I, but a lot of things had changed since their last meeting. While Afghanistan were no more regarded as minnows in T20 cricket, Sri Lanka were in a rebuilding phase of their own.

It all went wrong for Sri Lanka, right from the first over when their lost two wickets in the opening over itself. It seemed like an uphill task from there, and their innings never really took off as their lost wickets in heaps. The Lankans were shot out just 105, and to make matters worse, the Afghans chased down the total in just 10.1 overs with 8 wickets to spare.

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A proper hammering in the first game and the writing was on the wall. The Sri Lankan team was in shambles and it seemed like there was no way to go. They hit rock bottom, and next up, they faced Bangladesh, which happened to be a do-or-die game for both. The winners would move into the Super 4s while the loser had to pack their bags and go home.

5th Match, Sri Lanka v Bangladesh

With both teams losing to Afghanistan, the match became a pretty straightforward knockout affair. And in a high-pressure game, runs on the board always seems to be the right way to go.

Bangladesh batted first and racked up a mammoth 183 for 7 in their 20 overs. It was a good score, and perhaps even a daunting one for the Sri Lankans who were shot out for just 105 in their previous game. But Sri Lanka got their chase off to a great start and looked all set to steamroll Bangladesh to make a statement.

But 4 quick wickets derailed their progress and the game was wide open once again. Sri Lanka recovered a bit through Shanaka and Kusal Mendis’ crucial partnership for the 5th wicket but lost their way again. The game moved into a very intense phase with just 2 overs remaining and 25 runs to get and only one batter in Chamika Karunaratne remaining.

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But poor running between the wickets saw Sri Lanka’s last hope bite the dust and their poor campaign so far was coming to an end. Until… number 10 batter Asitha Fernando smacked two crucial boundaries and a big no-ball by the bowler gave Sri Lanka a famous win and kept them alive in the tournament.

Super 4, Match 1, Afghanistan v Sri Lanka

It was the Super 4’s time and Sri Lanka met Afghanistan once again, but this time the Lankans were on a high after a huge morale-boosting win against Bangladesh. This time the match was different, and it was so because, for the first time, teams were playing in Sharjah instead of Dubai.

And unlike last time, Afghanistan were batting first. It wasn’t the easiest wickets to bat on, but the Afghan batters were on song especially Rahamnullah Gurbaz, whose breathtaking 84 off 45 took his team to an imposing score of 175 in 20.

Sri Lanka were under pressure, but having chased a similar score in their previous match, they were confident. And the solid start by their openers Pathum Nissanka and Kusal Mendis ensured that the Lankans were on the right track. They lost their way in the middle by losing a few wickets, but did manage to cross the line with ease.

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The Sri Lankan team were high on confidence, and it looked like something special was brewing. But with two big games with India and Pakistan coming up, Sri Lanka had a lot to do.

Super 4, Match 3, India v Sri Lanka

India and Sri Lanka met for the first time in the tournament, and although you would think the pressure would be more on Sri Lanka, but with India losing a close game to Pakistan in the Super 4 encounter, the pressure was more on India. But Sri Lanka were desperate to keep the winning momentum going forward, and won a crucial toss and elected to chase.

India were asked to set a score, but after losing KL Rahul and Kohli early, India were in big trouble early on. But Rohit Sharma the skipper and Surya Kumar Yadav steadied the ship and brought the Indians back in the game. And just went it looked like India were moving towards a huge score, they lost Rohit and the wheels started coming off from there. Some useful hits towards the end saw India crawl past the 170-run mark, but Sri Lanka did extremely well to pull things back.

Chasing another similar score like the last couple of games, the template was there for the taking and Sri Lanka did just that. Nissanka and Mendis got the island nation off to a rollicking start and they continued their onslaught even post the powerplay.

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Nissanka played an ugly shot to get dismissed when the score was 97, but it all seemed like Sri Lanka would walk this. But a few more wickets fell and India were right back in it. You would’ve sensed the pressure was back on the Lankans, and it did seem like that for a few overs, but skipper Dasun Shanaka and Bhanuka Rajapaksa kept their cool and stitched a crucial 50+ partnership to take their team home.

With the win, Sri Lanka made with 2 wins in 2 in the Super 4s and were almost certain to play the big final. But before that, they had another big game coming up against Pakistan; their final Super 4s game.

Super 4, Match 6, Pakistan v Sri Lanka

By the time Pakistan and Sri Lanka played their game against each other, the final was already set with both Pakistan and Sri Lanka qualifying for the finals. So, the Super 4s clash between both teams was a mere dress rehearsal. Both teams quite fittingly rested a few of their players for the main clash. Some new faces were in the playing XI for the dead rubber.

The Lankans won the toss and opted to chase, as usual. Pakistan got off to a decent start, but lost their way in the middle. They kept losing wickets at crucial times, as no batter could get their eye in. Mohammed Nawaz hit a few lusty blows but that was just it. Pakistan folded for a paltry 121, with Sri Lanka once again impressing with ball in hand.

Chasing a low score, the Lankans got off to a disastrous start and were 2 for 2 in the second over. It seemed as though we were in for a low-scoring thriller, but Pathum Nissanka had other ideas. He held one end up while wickets kept tumbling at the other end. A couple of 20s from Rajapaksa and Shanaka while Nissanka’s unbeaten 55 off 48 took the Lankans over the line.

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The Sri Lankans had made it 4 wins on the bounce, and had won all their Super 4 clashes. While most didn’t believe they would go this far, the team kept believing in themselves and proved everyone wrong. But it wasn’t the end yet, they still had one final hurdle to cross – the big Asia Cup final against Pakistan, two days later.

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Asia Cup Final, Sri Lanka v Pakistan

It was the big Asia Cup final, and both teams were eager to lift the trophy. While Sri Lanka were vying for their 6th title, Pakistan were chasing only their 3rd title in 15 editions.

Pakistan won the all-important toss and chose to chase. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, had to bat first for the first time since that 105 all-out against Afghanistan in the first game. The pressure was on Sri Lanka, and that pressure was surely showing on the players as Pakistan had them rattled.

In no time, Sri Lanka were reeling at 58 for 5 in the 9 over. Their backs were to the wall and it was up to Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Wanindu Hasaranga to build a partnership and get their team back on track. Both stitched a crucial 58-run partnership with Hasaranga being the aggressor (36 off 21). He was dismissed and Rajapaksa took over. He thwarted the Pakistani bowlers and walloped an unbeaten 71 off 45 balls to take Sri Lanka to a more than respectable 170 in 20 overs.

Pressure was back on Pakistan now as Sri Lanka got much-needed momentum thanks to the 103 runs they scored in the back 10. Pakistan needed to get off to a good start, but it wasn’t to be. Pramod Madhusan struck two big blows off successive deliveries to dent Pakistan. And although Iftikhar and Rizwan got them back with a big partnership, the run rate was creeping up.

It got to a stage where Pakistan couldn’t afford to play out any dot balls, and that’s when Shanaka turned to his premier bowler Wanindu Hasaranga. The off-spinner bowled the crucial 17th over of the game and picked up 3 big wickets to turn the tide in Sri Lanka’s favor.

The game was definitely in the bag now, and despite some good hits from the Pakistani tailenders, Sri Lanka defied all odds (including the toss factor) and won the contest by 23 runs.

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Final Thoughts

The Asia Cup was initially scheduled to be played in Sri Lanka, but due to the difficulties the country was going through, it had to be shifted and moved to the United Arab Emirates. But despite all that, and despite their poor form leading up to the tournament, the Sri Lankans believed in themselves, even more so after a drubbing at the hands of Afghanistan in their opening game.

Their backs were to the wall, especially after losing so badly to Afghanistan, but the way they bounced back, first against Bangladesh, and then they became giant killers. They swept aside Afghanistan, tournament favorites India, and then beat Pakistan twice in three days to get their hands on the coveted trophy.

Truly, it was an inspirational story for the Sri Lankan team. Nobody expected them to win the tournament but they proved everyone wrong, and that’s the beauty of sport. It can surprise you in ways you never think it would. Hats off to Sri Lanka and their fans, they deserved every bit of this.

Asia Cup 2022 Champions – Sri Lanka. Richly deserved!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Ronald Daniel Sampson

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