Malinga five-for, Thirimanne ton guide team to their first major win since the Asia Cup in 2008.
In the end, Sri Lanka did it in style, making the contest fairly lop-sided and winning the final against Pakistan by five wickets with 22 balls to spare. They’ve been easily the best team of the tournament and an unbeaten streak of five matches gave them the Asia Cup for the fifth time.
The foundation was laid by Lasith Malinga with an initial burst of three wickets that dented Pakistan’s hopes of getting off to a flying start batting first. Malinga returned to remove Misbah-ul-Haq in the batting power-plays and accounted for Umar Akmal at the death to return with a five-for and the Man of the Match award. Lahiru Thirimanne, with a hundred, and Mahela Jayawardene, with a fifty, ensured that the fast bowler’s efforts were not wasted.
Thirimanne is widely regarded as the finest young batting talent in Sri Lanka. On Saturday he gave a glimpse of his class before Saeed Ajmal breached his defence later on. By then the Sri Lankan opener had 101 runs (108 balls, 13X4) against his name and the match was in Sri Lanka’s pocket. It was his third century in 62 ODIs.
“Thirimanne has to step into the big shoes when the time will come. Today he did his job very well,” Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews said.
The youngster finished the tournament with 279 runs from five matches. His opening partner Kusal Perera was agricultural but effective, taking on Umar Gul upfront and putting Pakistan under pressure at the start of the chase. Sri Lanka raced to 56 in 10 overs before the first wicket fell.
Ajmal was brought on inside the powerplay overs as the match was slipping out of Pakistan’s grip. And the off-spinner found his magic in his second over, striking twice in two balls. Perera was fooled by the one that held back a little as the batter charged down the wicket. Akmal had an easy stumping.
Kumar Sangakkara was sent packing for a golden duck with a doosra that caught him plumb in front. Out of form Mahela Jayawardene came in with Ajmal on a hat-trick and was beaten by another doosra, but the ball hit him above knee roll and he survived.
Jayawardene, who has struggled through this tournament, returned to form at the perfect time for Sri Lanka. The 36-year-old assembled all his experience to counter Ajmal’s threat and though he struggled initially, getting beaten a few times he went on to find his touch later. Thirimanne protected him well during that period and allowed his senior partner to settle to his own pace. Thirteen balls into his innings, Jayawardene found his touch. A sublime late cut off Ajmal went past the short third man to the fence.
A Vicious doosra
The bowler came up with a vicious doosra the very next ball, but Jayawardene negotiated it well. It was a fascinating contest but Pakistan suffered from the lack of support to Ajmal.
Shahid Afridi conceded a four in his first over and bowled a half-tracker to Jayawardene in his second, which was dispatched with disdain over the deep mid-wicket boundary. Mohammad Hafeez too couldn’t make his presence felt and the seamers bowled a wrong length on this easy-paced Sher-e-Bangla Stadium wicket. Umar Gul, Junaid Khan and Mohammad Talha finished with the economy rates of 7.33, 6.22 and 8.84 respectively.
A couple of dropped catches made matter worse for Misbah’s men. Both Jayawardene and Thirimanne were given reprieves. Jayawardene got out to a skier to Sharjeel Khan off Talha but a 93-ball 75 and a 156-run partnership with Thirimanne turned the match in Sri Lanka’s favour.
Earlier, Malinga ran through the Pakistan top order with three wickets in his first three overs. He dismissed Sharjeel Khan with a slower ball and then got rid of Ahmed Shehzad and Hafeez with a couple of away-goers. From 18 for three, Fawad Alam initiated a fantastic recovery with Misbah by his side. Together they added 122 runs for the fourth wicket to avert a collapse. But the run-scoring was slow.
Without Ajantha Mendis, dropped in favour of medium pacer Suranga Lakmal, Sri Lanka ostensibly lost a wicket-taking option in the middle-overs and the Pakistan duo went about their task of rebuilding without much pressure.
Misbah departed on 65, but Alam reached his maiden ODI hundred and remained unbeaten on 114. Akmal upped the ante with 59 in 42 balls, but ironically, Afridi, who passed a fitness test this morning to be available, didn’t get a chance. He walked out to bat with just two balls left and remained unbeaten without scoring. Pakistan’s total of 260 for five was always about 25 runs short.