Sangakkara takes Sri Lanka to Asia Cup final

Sri Lanka asserted its supremacy over Afghanistan on a sluggish surface at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium, experience winning out against talent that is still raw.

Sri Lanka had put on 253 for 6 after opting to bat on Monday (March 3), the initial part of the innings held together by Kumar Sangakkara’s broad blade. In the closing stages, Angelo Mathews took the fight to an inexperienced attack as the last four overs yielded 49 runs. The total proved too much for Afghanistan against an attack that used the conditions to good effect, ending in a comprehensive 129-run win. Sri Lanka thus marched into the final of the Asia Cup, collecting a bonus point after dismissing Afghanistan for 124 in 38.4 overs.

Thisara Perera (3 for 29) and Ajantha Mendis (3 for 11) topped up the batting unit’s good work with bowling that gelled perfectly with what the surface and situation demanded. The winning total though, was set up by the batsmen.Description:

Since landing in Bangladesh in January, Sri Lanka hasn’t tasted defeat even once across formats, including a bilateral series that preceded the Asia Cup. The man who has done the most to preserve that unbeaten streak was at it again, but an unfortunate run-out after a mix-up cut Sangakkara’s innings short at 76, the third time in three outings that he had topped 50 in the tournament.

Sangakkara apart, the Sri Lankan batsmen were tied down by an Afghanistan attack that continued to be mighty impressive for the most part, until the late Mathews surge that brought him an unbeaten 45 off 41.

Of all the batsmen on show on either side, Sangakkara seemed to be most at ease, but in the 38th over, he committed himself to a single after Mathews kept out a Dawlat Zadran yorker, having come down too far to regain his ground when Mathews turned the run down. Mohammad Nabi made no errors in relaying the ball to Dawlat, included in place of the injured Hamid Hassan, and Dawlat wasted no time in breaking the stumps, ending a 102-ball essay marked by control and an astute reading of the situation and conditions.

The day began with Shapoor Zadran bowling his by now customary hostile opening spell. Shapoor’s pace, angle and length all made him difficult to score off, and he got a deserved wicket with one that cut in and flattened Lahiru Thirimanne’s stumps.

Kusal Perera wasn’t given room to free his arms, though he did strike some meaty blows. The advent of Mirwais Ashraf and Nabi in the attack slowed the scoring down further. Ashraf had proved very difficult to score off against both Pakistan and Bangladesh, and so it was today. Kusal was undone by the nagging accuracy as much as anything else, chopping Ashraf on to his stumps after a period where only five runs had come in four overs. Ashraf found greater reward when an out-of-sorts Mahela Jayawardene was held smartly by Nabi at mid-on and at 83 for 3 in the 22nd over, Sri Lanka was in some trouble.

An unchanged spell of eight overs had brought Ashraf 2 for 29, Afghanistan’s most impressive figures of the day.

Dinesh Chandimal had a good opportunity to build a stand with Sangakkara, and the duo added 74, but Chandimal threw it away after the hard work, bowled by Hamza Hotak for 26 after stepping out and missing the ball.

That was followed by the key wicket of Sangakkara, leaving Sri Lanka 158 for 5, but even with the death overs approaching, the runs were gathered rather than plundered, as the new batsmen took time to get used to the pace of the surface. Like all great batsmen, Sangakkara made it seem like he was batting on a different pitch than the others. He too took some time to get used to the conditions, but never looked out of sorts. He had begun to open out more, with some pleasing cuts and drives, when he ran himself out.

Mathews was joined by Thisara Perera in the 42nd over, and the duo were finally able to get a move on. Shapoor and Dawlat lost their lines and lengths in the final four overs, and Dawlat even had to be taken off in the final over for a beamer that slipped out of his hands, the second full toss above waist height he had bowled. Mathews ended on 45 off 41, with the unbroken seventh-wicket pair adding 69 in 49 balls.

Faced with a challenging target, Afghanistan began positively, even though Mohammad Shahzad fell in the second over. Asghar Stanikzai, one of the heroes of the win against Bangladesh, played some pleasing shots, with his backfoot punches catching the eye, and the returning Noor Ali Zadran lent him good support.

However, once Stanikzai fell for 27 off 34, the wheels came off the chase. Thisara’s pace off the wicket made him difficult to work away and he kept a good line, while Mendis was always likely to be a tricky proposition on this surface and Sri Lanka’s trump card, and so it proved.

Afghanistan stumbled from 53 for 1 in the 13th over to 73 for 5 in the 20th, and the match as a contest was over.

Nabi played a lone hand down the order, hitting 37 off 43, but when he was seventh out, trapped in front by a flatter Chaturanga de Silva delivery, it was only a matter of time for Afghanistan.

The end came quickly, with the last three batsmen falling in the space of 12 balls, as Sri Lanka completed a thumping win.