Sri Lanka Win Battle of Nerves

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Tail-ender Asitha Fernando showed exceptional composure under pressure to hit two match-defining boundaries that took Sri Lanka to the Super Fours of the Asia Cup with a thrilling two-wicket victory over bitter rivals Bangladesh here on Thursday.

Chasing a target of 184, Sri Lanka won with an anti-climax reserved for the final over when off-spinner Mahedi Hasan overstepped while bowling the third delivery bringing down curtains on the game.

While Kusal Mendis (60 off 37 balls) and skipper Dasun Shanaka (45 off 33 balls) set up the victory, it wouldn’t have been possible without Fernando’s brilliant temperament. Debutant Fernando first hit the last ball of the 19th over by Ebadot Hossain (3/51 in 4 overs) for a boundary to bring the equation down to eight runs in one over.

Shakib having already exhausted Mustafizur Rahaman’s quota of overs, had no option but to give inexperienced Mahedi the ball and Fernando slog swept his second delivery to seal the fate of the game, which could have otherwise belonged to Ebadot. To rub it in, the Sri Lankans did the ‘Nagin Dance’ patented by the Bangladeshi cricketers as the pre-match build-up has been anything but sober.

Ebadot bowled a good first spell of two overs in which he bowled three short balls that accounted for three Lankan batters. Taskin Ahmed also used the bumper to get rid of Bhanuka Rakapaksa.

Incidentally, Sri Lankan skipper Shanaka had declared that Bangladesh only had two world class bowlers in skipper Shakib Al Hasan and cutter-master Mustafizur Rahaman, something that ‘Tigers’ manager Khaled Mahmud Sujon had taken an exception to.

The 13th over of the innings yielded 22 runs as Shanaka hit Ebadot for two sixes — one over deep mid-wicket and other, a pick-up pull behind square. That became the turning point. Mendis perished after a well-made 60 off 37 balls that had four boundaries and three sixes holing out to third man region off Mustafizur.

Shanaka, who carried on manfully and had to do the heavy lifting during the death overs, was finally out trying to play one shot too many.

Earlier, Afif Hossain and Mosaddek Hossain played impactful knocks to help their team reach a commanding 183 for seven. Afif (39 off 22 balls) and Mahmudullah (27 off 22) added 57 runs in just 6.1 overs for the fifth wicket. Mosaddek played a brilliant cameo, smashing 24 off nine balls.

The match that garnered a lot of attention due to a statement by skipper Shanaka and a counter-reply by Bangladesh team manager Sujon. After the first innings, it was ‘even stevens’ as Sri Lanka “without any world class bowlers” as Mahmud had termed the opposition attack, did well enough till the 14th over, only to lose the plot towards the end.

Bangladesh, on their part, could claim upper-hand as despite losing wickets at regular intervals, they kept up the tempo to post a challenging total in the end.

Speaking after the thriller, Bhanuka Rajapasksa addressed the impact of the game and said that this is a morale boosting victory for the Sri Lankan nation.

“Of course, we are happy because after winning a game it’s quite thrilling, and what we need is winning games. The experience gained playing together in the last maybe 12 or 15 months, has brought us much closer as a team. It’s quite exciting to see when tailenders win the game for us and it’s very, very exciting for the whole nation as well.”

Brief scores:

Bangladesh: 183/7 (20) (Afif Hossain 39, Mehidy Hasan 38; Chamika Karunaratne 2-32)

Sri Lanka: 184/8 (19.2) (Kusal Mendis 60, Dasun Shanaka 45; Ebadot Hossain 3-51)