Sri Lanka have won the Asia Cup 2014 with the greatest ease, to record their 5th triumph in the tournament, equaling the record held by India. The late show of spirited batting by Pakistan was not enough in the end against the determined Lankans. All through the tournament, Sri Lankans played with purpose. They didn’t lose a single league game and despite occasional hiccups, they didn’t surrender control. On the other hand, Pakistan had to struggle in a few games, including the one against India, where they scraped through in the final over, after India held the reins for a while. One is left wondering about Pakistan’s fate, if the old foe Shahid Afridi was not present in the middle, with 9 wickets gone and a few balls left in the 50th over against India. The same Shahid Afridi produced another magical performance, when Bangladesh had left Pakistan with a target of 327 at the slow Mirpur pitch. With a bludgeoning display of vintage form, boom boom Afridi blasted 7 sixes in a 25-ball 59 to steal the match from the hosts, when all seemed lost for Pakistan. Even after the Afridi heroics, the victory for Pakistan came off the last ball of the innings. It tells you how close the match was for Pakistan.
In the final, Pakistan won the toss and chose to bat. But pretty soon, they were in trouble. Once again, the dreaded Malinga removed the first three Pakistan batsmen for just 18 runs on the board. Such start put Pakistan on the defensive and with the result, scoring-rate fell drastically. Fawad Alam and Misbah-ul-Haq began playing cautiously with the priority of first resurrecting the damage done by the great Sri Lankan speedster. When Misbah fell as the fourth wicket, Pakistan had only scored 140 and the 37th over was in progress. With 13 overs to go, a run rate of less than 4 runs couldn’t have taken Pakistan to produce a challenging total against their flawless opponents. But Fawad Alam and Umar Akmal were not about to give up just yet. Come to think of it, Fawad Alam was the twelfth man until Pakistan’s game against India and he got his first chance in the tournament in the game against Bangladesh, because Sharjeel Khan was injured. His gritty 74 against Bangladesh meant he would play the final. Alam’s innings in the final was built around his luck. Even in the partnership with Misbah-ul-Haq, Alam was flashy and could have been out to many of his aerial shots. But his real game emerged in the company of Umar Akmal and the two of them found the courage to hit the Sri Lankan bowlers without fear and took the score to 260. It was the score, which should be considered highly respectable at the nearly dead Mirpur pitch. In the process, Fawad Alam scored his maiden ODI century and Akmal added another fifty to the numerous, he had already scored.
However, the Sri Lankan batsmen began in the same nonchalant way that has been trademark in the tournament. Despite losing two wickets on the same score of 56, Lankans continued to surge with a run-rate in excess of 5 at all times. Mahela Jayawardane and Lahiru Thirimanne batted with practiced ease and kept finding gaps to score their runs. Thirimanne played with great control and recorded his second century of this Asia Cup. His first one had also come against Pakistan in the league game earlier. Jayawardane, however, was a lot subdued but he carried on regardless. Since Sangakkara was dismissed for a duck, someone had to play a sheet anchor and Jayawardane filled that role. When the third Lankan wicket fell, the score had already reached 212 and more than 12 overs remained. There was no way any team could stop Sri Lanka at that time. Though Sri Lanka lost two more wickets, they were always on course to win their 5th Asia Cup title. For Pakistan, Saeed Ajmal produced a beautiful spell of slow bowling, which the Sri Lanka batsmen found difficult to negotiate. Ajmal accounted for three of the five Sri Lanka wickets that fell, including that of Lahiru Thirimanne, who was simply foxed by a delivery that hit the stumps after scraping his pads.
For Sri Lanka, Lasith Malinga was the other hero, who claimed all Pakistani wickets that fell. He had taken 5 in the league game too, against Pakistan. But other than Thirimanne and Malinga, Sri Lankans performed as a team in the tournament. Kumar Sangakkara dominated every bowler that he faced and except for the final, his batting was superb. Angelo Mathews proved his worth as skipper and a utility all-rounder with remarkable camaraderie despite leading a side full of senior cricketers. The Sri Lankan dominance was evident from the fact that, when the match ended with their five-wicket victory, 22 balls still remained.
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