Lahiru Thirimanne scored his second ton in the Asia Cup © AFP
By Nishad Pai Vaidya
Mar 8, 2014
It was a comprehensive performance from Sri Lanka as they lifted fifth Asia Cup; their first since 2008. While Lasith Malinga led the way by picking all five wickets earlier in the day, it was a convincing performance from Lahiru Thirimanne that sealed the deal for his side. It was Malinga’s second consecutive five-for and Thirimanne’s second consecutive century against Pakistan as Sri Lanka beat the defending champions in both their encounters of this edition.
Chasing 261 for victory, Sri Lanka may have felt a bit jittery when Saeed Ajmal rocked them in the 11th over with twin strikes, but then Mahela Jayawardene joined Thirimanne in the middle set the platform for a five-wicket victory. Jayawardene had been out of form earlier in the tournament and needed an innings if substance. It came at the right time as he crossed fifty after 13 One-Day International (ODI) innings. While Thirimanne was the more attacking batsman, Jayawardene started slowly and then accelerated.
Sri Lanka were bolstered by Kusal Perera early on in their run-chase. Playing with that Sanath Jayasuriya-like bravado, he smashed Umar Gul square of the wicket on both sides. He pulled with disdain and cut with conviction, speeding away to 42. However, Ajmal came in the 11th over and had him stumped with one that invited him down the track and beat him. Kumar Sangakkara came in and was hit on the pads first up and was given out leg-before.
Jayawardene and Thirimanne’s stand battled a few nervous moments. Umar Akmal dropped Thirimanne off Shahid Afridi and Jayawardene also survived a caught-behind appeal. But, they continued to increase the scoring rate, essaying some delightful strokes. Jayawardene’s most attacking stroke came off Afridi as he pulled him for six. Thirimanne was ready to punish anything off-line and he sped away to fifty.
The partnership kept growing and went past 100 and then 150. In a matter of 27 overs, they had scored over 150 before Jayawardene was out caught on 75 as he tried to loft Mohammad Talha over the infield. Ashan Priyanjan looked good during his brief stay, but Junaid Khan dismissed him for 13 to take his first wicket in the series. It was too late though as Sri Lanka needed under 30 to win. Thirimanne got his ton and Angelo Mathews stayed on till the finish. Thirimanne was dismissed soon after his ton as Ajmal broke through his defences.
Earlier, Pakistan had won the toss and had chosen to bat first; scoring 260. Sri Lanka had dropped Ajantha Mendis, a decision that did attract some attention — bringing back memories of the 2011 World Cup final.
Malinga was too hot to handle early on. While Sharjeel Khan started with two boundaries, he was dismissed as he tried to loft him in the first over and was caught at mid-on. Malinga then held his line in the corridor of uncertainty and had Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez poking at deliveries outside the off-stump.
At 18 for three, Pakistan needed some good batting when Fawad Alam and skipper Misbah-ul-Haq came together. Starting cautiously, they rebuilt the Pakistan innings. Both were gritty at best early on, only attacking the rank bad deliveries. Misbah even survived a shout as he had clearly edged the ball. However, their partnership grew and they accelerated as the innings progressed.
Misbah crossed 50 with almost 20 overs to go and could have got to his ton. However, on 65, he tried to loft Malinga over long-off but only managed to offer a catch to the fielder at long-on. Pakistan were 140 for four in the 37th over. Umar Akmal walked out and smashed the Sri Lankan bowling. Even Alam had increased pace by then and smashed three sixes in all, one of them getting his ton. Interestingly, he had hit only three sixes before this game.
In the last ten overs, Pakistan smashed 101 runs with Alam getting to his first ODI ton. Akmal reached his fifty in the penultimate over. Malinga ensured the end wasn’t too bad for Sri Lanka after a few expensive overs. He dismissed Akmal in the last over to get his fifth wicket. A target of 260 was going to be challenging, but Sri Lanka made it look all too easy.
This victory also breaks a losing streak in the finals for Sri Lanka. That should help them overcome the jinx in the near future.
Pakistan 260 for 5 in 50 overs (Misbah-ul-Haq 65, Fawad Alam 114*, Umar Akmal 59; Lasith Malinga 5 for 52) lost to Sri Lanka 261 for 5 in 46.2 overs (Lahiru Thirimanne 101, Mahela Jayawardene 75; Saeed Ajmal 3 for 26) by 5 wickets.
Man of the Match: Lasith Malinga.
Man of the Series: Lahiru Thirimanne.