Asia Cup: Shanaka rises to the challenge, keeps Sri Lanka in the title hunt

Sri Lanka have won three matches on the trot following their embarrassing defeat to Afghanistan in the tournament opener

Sri Lankan captain Dasun Shanaka celebrates after helping the team beat India in a last-over thriller. (Photo by M. Sajjad)
Sri Lankan captain Dasun Shanaka celebrates after helping the team beat India in a last-over thriller. (Photo by M. Sajjad)

Rituraj Borkakoty

Published: Wed 7 Sep 2022, 12:02 AM

Last updated: Wed 7 Sep 2022, 12:23 AM

A couple of days before the start of the DP World Asia Cup in the UAE, Sri Lankan captain Dasun Shanaka declared that his team was here to bring joy to their long-suffering people by taking the trophy back home.

Few would have given him a chance to walk the talk amid the frenzy over the possibility of witnessing three India-Pakistan matches in this tournament, including the final on September 11.

Even fewer probably had expected Shanaka to deliver when he walked in with the team struggling at 110 for four in 14.1 overs, while chasing 174, after they lost four quick wickets following a 97-run opening partnership off just 66 balls between Kusal Mendis (57 off 37 balls) and Pathum Nissanka (52 off 37 balls).

But Shanaka (33 not out off 18 balls, 4 fours, 1 six) and Bhanuka Rajapaksa (25 not out off 17 balls, 2 sixes) knocked the stuffing out of India with a brilliant 64-run unbroken fifth-wicket partnership that virtually put their team in the final and pushed India to the brink of elimination.

It was Sri Lanka’s second straight win in the Super Four, having beaten Afghanistan by five wickets in their opening Super Four clash.

Indian spinners, led by Yuzvendra Chahal (3/34), hit back with four quick wickets, but Shanaka and Rajapaksa held their nerve to take the team home.

Now India, who lost to Pakistan by five wickets in their opening Super Four clash in Dubai on Sunday, need a miracle to keep their thin chances of reaching the final alive.

To keep the Rohit Sharma-led team’s mathematical chances alive, Afghanistan have to pull of a historic victory over Pakistan at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Wednesday.

But if Pakistan win in Sharjah, Babar Azam’s team will face Sri Lanka in the final on September 11.

Poor start

Earlies, skipper Rohit led from the front to help India recover from a poor start, but Sri Lanka fought back to restrict India to 173 for eight.

Rohit’s 41-ball 72 (5 fours, 4 sixes) and his 97-run partnership with Suryakumar Yadav (34 off 28 balls) put the team back on track after Sri Lanka stunned India with two early wickets,

Kl Rahul (6) was the first man to fall when he was ruled out after an appeal for lbw from Maheesh Theekshana as the off-spinner struck in his first over with the new ball.

India suffered a bigger blow when Virat Kohli (0) attempted a big shot over the mid-wicket boundary against left-arm pacer Dilshan Madushanka (3/24) only to miss the line and lose his middle and leg stumps.

Rohit then rebuilt the innings with Yadav before launching his full range of big shots to score his first international half-century in seven innings.

But when India looked set for a very big score, the Sri Lankans hit back and broke the back of the Indian middle order.

The Sri Lankans bowlers, led by the brilliant Madushanka and right-arm pacer Chamika Karunaratne (2/27) kept the rival batsmen on a tight leash as Hardik Pandya (17) and Rishabh Pant (17) failed to convert their starts and give India a bigger total to defend on a beautiful wicket to bat.

“The confidence in the dressing room is great. The bowlers in patches, they bowled well . Credit to Dilshan, and Theekshana, they bowled really well. The batters came out against them, but we did well,” Shanaka said.

They certainly have done very well to win three matches on the trot after being bowled out for 105 in an embarrassing defeat to Afghanistan in the tournament opener.

Now Shanaka’s men have a real chance of going all the way against all the odds.

Brief scores:

> Sri Lanka beat India by six wickets.

> India 173-8 in 20 overs (Rohit Sharma 72, Suryakumar Yadav 34; Dilshan Madushanka 3/24, Chamika Karunaratne 2/27)

> Sri Lanka 174-4 in 19.5 overs (Kusal Mendis 57, Pathum Nissanka 52, Dasun Shanaka 33 not out, Bhanuka Rajapaksa 25 not out; Yuzvendra Chahal 3/34, Ravichandran Ashwin 1/32).

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