Kusal Mendis’ impressive 91 runs and an unbeaten 49 by Charith Asalanka propelled Sri Lanka to a thrilling two-wicket victory over Pakistan in the Asia Cup. This nail-biting contest, which saw Sri Lanka chasing a revised target of 252 in a 42-overs-a-side match in Colombo, reached its climax with Asalanka’s winning shot on the very last ball at 1.07 am local time.
The exuberant home crowd celebrated their team’s triumph, but the outcome shattered the hopes of millions of fans anticipating an India-Pakistan showdown in the 50-over tournament, which would have served as a prelude to the upcoming ODI World Cup.
Despite the tense situation, Asalanka held his composure, even in the face of Shaheen Shah Afridi’s two wickets in consecutive balls during the penultimate over. The 42nd over, bowled by Zaman Khan, added more drama as it yielded just two runs along with a crucial wicket.
Mendis laid the foundation for Sri Lanka’s victory with a remarkable 100-run partnership for the third wicket alongside Sadeera Samarawickrama, who contributed 48 runs. However, once they departed, it was Asalanka who took the responsibility upon himself to secure the win.
Off-spinner Iftikhar Ahmed played a pivotal role for Pakistan, taking three crucial wickets, including those of Mendis and Samarawickrama, to keep the contest evenly balanced until the very end.
Before this thrilling chase, Mohammad Rizwan’s unbeaten 86 runs had anchored Pakistan to a total of 252-7 after they elected to bat first in a match that had been delayed due to rain. Sri Lanka’s bowlers had initially pegged back Pakistan’s scoring, but Rizwan, with his 12th ODI half-century, and a valuable 108-run partnership with Iftikhar, who contributed 47 runs, revived Pakistan’s innings.
Fast bowler Pramod Madushan set the tone by dismissing Fakhar Zaman early on with a yorker that ignited the crowd’s excitement. Abdullah Shafique (52) and captain Babar Azam (29) then rebuilt the innings, surviving some close calls, including an lbw review for Shafique off Dunith Wellalage. Azam appeared to be finding his rhythm with a few boundaries but was eventually stumped by Wellalage, the left-arm spinner who had been Sri Lanka’s standout performer in their previous loss to India with figures of 5-40.
Shafique displayed resilience and notched up his maiden ODI fifty, hitting two sixes along the way, but he eventually fell to fast bowler Matheesha Pathirana, who struck again quickly. Following a rain break, Pakistan resumed at 130-5, with Rizwan digging deep and receiving support from Iftikhar, who took his time to settle in and then unleashed two crucial sixes in his 40-ball innings.
Pathirana claimed his third wicket by dismissing Iftikhar, and Madushan added another scalp late in the innings, but Rizwan remained unbeaten and concluded the innings with a boundary.
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