Sri Lanka’s Charith Asalanka kept his nerve and lifted his team into Sunday’s Asia Cup final – where they will face India – with a stunning two-wicket victory over injury-hit Pakistan.
Needing six off the last two balls in Colombo, the 26-year-old edged a boundary to third man against debutant fast bowler Zaman Khan before turning the pacer to square leg for two runs to carry Sri Lanka to 252-8 in a rain-reduced 42-over-a-side Super 4 game.
Asalanka had an unbeaten 49 off 47 balls as Sri Lanka survived the last two overs against Zaman and experienced Shaheen Shah Afridi (2-52).
“We gave them a chance to come back, but Charith held his nerves,” Sri Lanka captain Dasun Shanaka said. “Charith was great, character of a great player. Special feeling to play back-to-back finals.”
Afridi bowled a perfect penultimate over when the left-arm fast bowler picked up the wickets of Dhananjaya de Silva and Dunith Wellalage off successive deliveries and conceded only four runs.
Zaman conceded only two off the first four balls and also ran out Pramod Madushan before Asalanka brought the boisterous home crowd of nearly 35,000 at R. Premadasa Stadium on its feet off the last ball.
“We have not been up to the mark in the bowling and fielding, that’s why we lost the match,” Pakistan skipper Babar Azam said. “We started well, ended well, but middle overs were not great.”
Sri Lanka capitalized on Pakistan’s deleted bowling attack after key fast bowlers Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf were ruled out due to injuries and all-rounder Faheem Ashraf was also left out due to indifferent form.
Kusal Mendis made a brilliant 91 off 87 balls and shared a century stand with Sadeera Samarawickrama, who made 48. Zaman and Mohammad Wasim couldn’t stem the flow of runs and leg-spinner Shadab Khan also erred in lengths by bowling too many full tosses in below-par figures of 1-55.
Off-spinner Iftikhar Ahmed picked up 3-50 and brought Pakistan back in the game when he had Samarawickrama stumped and Mendis was brilliantly snapped by diving Mohammad Haris at short cover as the ball ballooned off the leading edge.
Earlier, Mohammad Rizwan made 86 off 73 balls and Ahmed made 47 as they propelled Pakistan to 252-7 after both batters got reprieves early in their knocks.
Rain, which has disrupted the Super 4 games in Colombo, yet again delayed the toss before the game was reduced to 45-over-a-side.
Pakistan was forced to leave out Imam-ul-Haq and Saud Shakeel due to illness as it won the toss and elected to bat. Abdullah Shafique made a 52 in his first game of the tournament after Fakhar Zaman’s inconsistent run continued in the Asia Cup and was clean bowled by Madushan for 4.
Babar (29) and Shafique revived the innings with a 64-run stand before Wellalage had Babar stumped off a brilliant delivery that spun away sharply. Haris and Mohammad Nawaz fell cheaply and Pakistan was reduced to 130-5 in the 28th over before rain arrived.
But Rizwan and Ahmed counterattacked once the play resumed after nearly half an hour delay as they batted aggressively against both fast bowlers Matheesha Pathirana (3-65) and Madushan (2-58).