Charith Asalanka with ice in his veins sealed Sri Lanka's date with India in the Asia Cup 2023 final after clinching a two-wicket victory in a nerve-cracking chase against Pakistan on Thursday at the R Premadasa Stadium.
Defending champions left it late to clinch the victory against a side who were certainly missing the presence of their star pacers Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf in the death overs.
Shaheen Shah Afridi almost took the victory away from Sri Lanka's hands in the second last over but in the end, Asalanka dug deep to censure Sri Lanka's triumph with a last-ball victory and shatter Pakistan's hopes.
Sri Lanka kicked off the second innings with swagger as openers Pathum Nissank and Kusal Perera fired all cylinders from the very first over with Shaheen Afridi on the receiving end.
Ten runs from the first over settled the nerves in the Sri Lankan camp and helped set the tone quite early in the game. A mix-up in the fourth over brought the end of Perera's night for 17 following a direct runout from Shadab Khan.
But a minor setback wasn't going to hold Sri Lanka from their approach for this chase as Nissanka struck two consecutive fours in the next two deliveries to make up for the small hindrance.
A small partnership was built by Nissanka and Kusal Mendis but Shadab made most of the turning surface to claim the second wicket and put a dent in Sri Lanka's bright start. Nissanka's night came to an end as he departed for a score of 29.
Menids and Sadeera Samarawickrama joined hands and took away the entire game right in front of Pakistan's eyes with a 100-run stand. Iftikhar Ahmed tricked Samarawickrama (48) but the damage was already done.
Charith Asalanka came in and struck a massive six over mid-wicket to announce his arrival in the game. On the other end, Mendis continued to play his usual game, scoring boundaries with elegance to bring down the equation to run a ball.
Iftikhar's second spell gave Sri Lanka a scare as he stole the moment of glory from Mendis (91) by sending him back just 9 runs shy of his century.
Skipper Dasun Shanaka stepped up to finish the game for his team but departed for a score of 2. Shaheen Shah Afridi set up a nail-biting final over as he claimed two wickets in two balls in the second last over.
Debutant Zaman Khan had 9 runs to save the game and take Pakistan to the finals but Charith Asalanka (49)* held onto his nerves and sent Sri Lanka to the final to defend their title with a bit of luck. A bg outside edge helped him get the boundary Sri Lanka needed the most on the second-last ball and then a gentle flick into the gap was enough to ensure Sri Lanka's victory.
Earlier in the innings, Pakistan got off to a fragile start as Fakhar Zaman (4) once again failed to deliver at the top. Knocks from skipper Babar Azam (29) and Abdullah Shafique (52) got them back in the game for some time.
Rizwan and Iftikhar joined hands when Pakistan batters were struggling on the field and they managed to put up 130 runs on the board after losing 5 wickets.
But after their wickets fell, Pakistan's middle order was a major letdown as Mohammad Haris, Mohammad Nawaz and Shadab Khan combined score read 18.
Rizwan and Iftikhar drove Pakistan's innings in a game that was interrupted multiple times due to rain. Their graceful shots to pick up boundaries posed various challenges to Sri Lanka's bowling set-up.
Spinners and pacers were forced to rethink their line and length of the deliveries as constant strike rotation between the right and left-handed pair made it difficult for the bowlers to stick to one length.
Matheesha Pathirana got the breakthrough as both batters spread carnage all over the field. Their 108-run partnership was the highest 6th wicket or below stand for Pakistan in ODI Asia Cup. But their partnership was vital in helping Pakistan to put up 252 on the board.
Brief Score: Pakistan 252/7 (Mohammad Rizwan 86*, Abdullah Shafique 52; Matheesha Pathirana 3-65) vs Sri Lanka (Kusal Mendis 91, Charith Asalanka 49*; Iftikhar Ahmed 3-50).