Three months ago, the third T20 match of Australia’s tour of Sri Lanka had become a mere formality as the Kangaroos had won the first two matches to clinch the series.
Shanaka’s team chasing the target in this final T20 match played at Palikele was once again walloped and the sword of a clean sweep hanging over their heads. Six batsmen had returned to the pavilion and Sri Lanka needed 59 runs off 18 balls to win.
Destruction seemed to be the script for Sri Lanka.
But then Shanaka’s bat began to speak and the Finches watched. Hazlewood, who had taken two wickets for just three runs in his first three overs, scored 22 runs in Shanaka’s last over with two fours and two sixes. When Sri Lanka themselves were convinced of their defeat, Shanaka stood up for the team and pulled a sure victory from the face of world champions Australia.
If one tries to understand Sri Lanka’s performance in the recent Asia Cup, Shanaka’s innings against Australia now seems to be part of the subconscious of the dressing room. The same determination and fearlessness to the point of recklessness was seen in Shanaka’s batting that day, some of the same confidence is now reflected in the batting of Nissanaka and Rajapaksa. And Kosal Mendis has become really dangerous after becoming an opener.
Sri Lanka’s spin bowling has been making a name for itself for the past three decades, but the real tragedy of this team in recent years has been its batting. The batting line-up once known for the likes of Rana Tonga, De Silva, Atapattu and Jayasuriya has been lost in search of its true identity for years after the departure of Sangakkara and Jayawardene.
The special thing about Shanaka’s team is that the spin department in this team was carrying its burden in a good way, now in the batting too, a glimpse of the renaissance of the same harmless Sri Lankan whose pioneer Arvind was once started to be seen. D’Silva, Sanath Jayasuriya and sometimes Tillakaratne used to be like Dilshan.
The way the Sri Lankan batsmen were completely at the mercy of the Afghan bowlers in the first match of the Asia Cup, he probably pushed the Sri Lankan batsmen out of fear and then in the knockout match against Bangladesh. All the batsmen were seen batting with the C approach of captain Shanaka.
Knowing the importance of the final to be played two days later, Pakistan rested Shadab Khan and Naseem Shah and gave Hasan Ali and Usman Qadir game practice. Thus, before the final match, both of their original weapons were also hidden from the opponent’s eyes.
Strategically, this was a positive development, but Pakistan was certainly not expecting defeat in return. Babar Azam definitely showed some signs of returning to form, but once again it became clear that if Mohammad Rizwan gets out early, the middle order will be in trouble.
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But even though the Pakistani batsmen failed, the bowlers still kept up the momentum and somehow managed to pull the match not only to the death overs but also kept it interesting.
And then Shanaka once again repeated the same story that is now becoming his identity.
Pakistan was about to encircle Haris Rauf’s good and successful spell by hitting fours and sixes one after the other. And then when Hasan Ali once again brought the required run-rate in balance in the 16th over, he returned all the pressure to Pakistan by hitting Mohammad Hasnain for a six on the first ball of the 17th over.
The way Pakistan’s middle-order batting quality unfolded in front of spin and the confidence with which Shanaka faced Haris Rauf and Mohammad Hasnain in the death overs, there is plenty to suggest that Shanaka’s side will be in for a treat for Pakistan on Sunday evening. It will never be proven.