Image courtesy of: ESPNcricinfo
Thirimanne’s heroics helped Sri Lanka win the Asia Cup
Sri Lanka opening batsman Lahiru Thirimanne smashed a splendid century to help his side be crowned Asia Cup champions following their five-wicket win over Pakistan in Mirpur.
Thirimanne was well supported by veteran batsman Mahela Jayawardene, who scored a magnificent half-century, and pace bowler Lasith Malinga, who ripped through Pakistan’s batting line-up with a five-wicket haul.
However, Pakistan batsman Fawad Alam deserves a lot of credit as well as he scored a valiant century.
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq would have been pondering over whether he made the right decision to bat first after opening batsman Sharjeel Khan was caught by Thisara Perera at mid-on off the bowling of Malinga for eight runs.
Ahmed Shehzad only made five runs before he was caught behind off the bowling of Malinga.
All-rounder Mohammad Hafeez fared no better as he only scored three runs before he was caught behind to become Malinga’s third victim of the match.
Ul-Haq and Alam stabilised the innings with a 122-run partnership, during which both batsman brought up their half-centuries, before ul-Haq was caught by Kusal Perera at long-on off the bowling of Malinga.
Ul-Haq’s fantastic knock of 65 came off 98 balls and included three boundaries and two sixes.
Alam and Umar Akmal kept the runs flowing with a 115-run partnership, during which Alam registered his maiden ODI century and Akmal his half-century, before Akmal was caught by Ashan Priyanjan at backward point off the bowling of Malinga.
Akmal’s superb innings of 59 came off 42 balls and included seven boundaries.
Alam ended up making 114 off 134 deliveries, which included eight boundaries and three sixes, as Pakistan finished on 260/5 off their 50 overs.
Malinga, who picked up all the wickets, recorded his seventh five-wicket haul.
Chasing 261 to win, Sri Lanka got off to a solid start as their opening pair of Perera and Thirimanne amassed a 56-run partnership before Perera was stumped by Akmal off the bowling of Saeed Ajmal for 42.
Ajmal struck again the very next ball when Kumar Sangakkara was given out lbw for a golden duck.
Thirimanne and Jayawardene steadied the innings with a brilliant 156-run partnership, during which both batsmen brought up their half-centuries, before Jayawardene was caught by Sharjeel Khan in the cover region off the bowling of Mohammad Talha.
Jayawardene’s outstanding knock of 75 came off 93 balls and included nine boundaries and a six.
Priyanjan only made 13 runs before he was caught behind off the bowling of Junaid Khan.
Thirimanne ended up scoring his third ODI century, but failed to convert it into a bigger score as he was clean bowled by Ajmal for 101 off 108 deliveries, which included 13 boundaries.
Thanks to Thirimanne and Jayawardene, Sri Lanka reached their target with 22 balls to spare.
Ajmal was the pick of the bowlers with three wickets, while Talha and Khan chipped in with one wicket apiece.
Ul-Haq was extremely disappointed to have lost the match, and said: “I think losing the first three wickets so quickly we were under pressure. We recovered well after that, but we could have added 25-30 runs.
“[We] Could not build enough pressure with the ball. It wasn’t the pressure of the final. [We] Just didn’t execute our plans. We [didn’t want] to give Lasith any wickets and in the end he took all our wickets.
“You need partnerships in the bowling as well. Saeed was bowling really well, but we were leaking runs in the other end. Batting was a positive sign in the series, Shehazad and Afridi and Alam and Akmal and Hafeez all played really good knocks. They batted sensibly and contributed really well.
“Most of the guys in the T20 side are in good form and we’ve been playing here for a while so we have a great chance in the World T20.”
Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews was ecstatic to have won the Asia Cup, and said: “We wanted to break the barrier between us and the finals and credit to the whole team. I thought the toss wasn’t crucial and Lasith set us up wonderfully. It was a very good run-chase. Big victory not only for me, but for the whole team.
“[We] Haven’t won a major tournament for a while. Very tough call to leave Mendis out because he performs well whenever we ask him to. But we wanted an extra death bowling option and Lakmal was brilliant.”
Malinga was named Man of the Match for his superb five-wicket haul, and said: “[The] Last couple of days we were training hard and we stuck to the basics in the big final. And the rest helped as well. [I]Just tried to bowl good line and length and it worked for me and the team. Yeah, last few games I’ve done well against Pakistan and I’m looking forward to picking more wickets in the future.”
Thirimanne was named Man of the Series for scoring 279 runs at an impressive average of 55.80, and said: “Actually, I just wanted ot play the anchor role today. We knew 260 was gettable but one man has to take up the responsibility and play through the innings. [The] Ball was skidding onto the bat and I used the pace. It’s my first Man of the Series [award] and I’m very happy about it.”