Sri Lanka's players celebrate with the trophy at the end of their Asia Cup Twenty20 final match against Pakistan at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Sunday. AFP
Mohammad Abdullah, Senior Sport Reporter
Riding on a collective team performance, Sri Lanka defeated Pakistan by 23 runs to clinch the Asia Cup and bring a smile on the faces of millions of people back home amid a financial crisis in the country on Sunday.
After posting a fighting total of 170, Lanka skittled out Pakistan for 147 to lift the sixth Asia Cup crown.
Pramod Madushan and Wanindu Hasaranga shared seven wickets between them and Bhanuka Rajapaksa smashed a fighting fifty as Lanka won the fifth consecutive match to regain the title.
Madushan took 4-34 while Hasaranga, who also scored a quick-fire 36, returned with a figure of 3-29.
Chasing, Pakistan got off to a stuttering start as the bad form of Babar Azam continued, which leaves a lot for Mohammad Rizwan to do. Madushan dismissed Babar and Fakhar Zaman in quick succession to derail the chase.
He had the Pakistani captain caught by Dilshan Madhusahanka and blew away the stumps of Fakhar Zaman off the next delivery.
Rizwan played a fighting innings as he added 71 runs with Iftikhar Ahmed for the third wicket to keep the chase alive. But the duo consumed too many deliveries as the asking run rate shot up.
In his second spell, Madushan got rid of Iftikhar to break the partnership. Iftikhar holed out to KNA Bandara with Pakistan still needing 77 runs in 6.4 overs.
After the dismissal of Iftikhar, Pakistan crumbled like a pack of cards under pressure. Due to the spiraling required run rate, they played reckless shots and threw away their wickets.
Hasranga ripped through the middle-order and got rid of dangerman Rizwan, Khushdil Shah and Asif Ali in the same over to leave Pakistan tottering at 112/7. Pakistan lost five wickets for 20 runs. They were reduced to 112/7 from 92/2. They could never recover from there and were bundled out for 147.
Earlier, Pakistan failed to capitalize on the dream start their bowlers gave them, pushing Lanka on the back foot from the beginning.
After reducing Lanka to 58/5, Pakistan spurned a chance to keep the pressure intact rather they dropped a few chances to facilitate Lankaâ€™s batting.
Lanka were struggling at 58/5, but their rescue men, Rajapaksa and Hasaranga, refused to give up. When everybody had written them off, they had a belief in themselves that they could still make a game out of it.
The duo knuckled down to stitch the innings together and added 58 runs for the sixth wicket to take the score to 116/6 in 14.5 overs. They kept the scoreboard moving with singles and doubles and hit the occasional boundaries to maintain a healthy run rate.
Hasaranga was the more aggressive of the two as he hit five boundaries and one six in his 21-ball 36 to spur the run rate. In his next spell, Rauf had Hasaranga caught behind the wickets to break the dangerous-looking partnership.
After the dismissal of Hasaranga, Rajapaksa took the charge in his hands and started cutting loose. He along with Chamika Karunaratne added another unbeaten 54 runs to propel Lanka to 170/6.
Rajapaksa seems to be relishing his role at number five. He has emerged as one of the best finishers in the world. He played a match-winning innings against Afghanistan before sharing an unbeaten 64-run partnership with Shanaka to steer Lanka to a victory against India after they were struggling at 114-4. Lady luck also smiled on him as he got two reprieves during his stint at the crease.
He was dropped twice. When he was on 57, Shadab Khan and Asif Ali collided on the boundary in an attempt to take his catch, and the ball bounced over the ropes. His innings was studded with six fours and three sixes.
Earlier, it was the new pace sensation, Naseem Shah, who triggered the collapse. He rattled the stumps of in-form opener Kusal Mendis as Lanka lost their first wicket with just two runs on the board.
Mendis, who is the mainstay of Lankaâ€™s batting line-up, was out for a golden duck for the second successive time. He failed to get off the mark in the previous game also, after having contributed to their success in the tournament in almost every match.
Lankaâ€™s main strength has been their opening partnership. In almost every match that Lanka won, their openers Pathum Nissanka and Mendis gave them a blazing start, and the middle-order capitalized on it for a successful chase.
Nissanka and Dhananjay Silva started building the innings and added 21 runs for the second wicket. Hardly Lanka had recovered from the dismissal of star batsman Mendis, Nissanka played a miscued shot off Haris Rauf and Babar Azam completed a clean catch.
After losing both their openers, Lanka pressed the panic button and kept on losing wickets at regular intervals. In his next over, Rauf uprooted the stumps of Danushka Gunathilaka as Lanka were reduced to 36/3. They were in deep trouble and needed somebody to play a sheet-anchor role to revive their faltering innings.
On the other hand, a charged-up Pakistan attack was trying to keep a stranglehold on the match as they bowled aggressively. Lanka, who had gone into defensive mode, were bidding to come back into the game. Every time they tried to take a step forward, they were pegged two steps back by the Pakistani bowlers.
Iftikhar Ahmed caught and bowled Dhananjay, while Shadab Khan clean bowled Dasun Shanaka to leave Lanka in tatters. The Lions had lost five wickets with just 58 runs on the board and looked set to be bundled out for a paltry total.