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The tournament has been moved from Sri Lanka to the United Arab Emirates due to the prevailing political and financial crisis. On Sunday, they at least managed to restore their cricketing identity as a powerhouse in the Indian subcontinent. Known as the Lions, they were roaring again when Chamika Karunaratne knocked down Haris Rauf’s stumps on the game’s last ball.
How it happened
Rajapaksa came out at bat 36/3 in the sixth against a fire-spitting Pakistan pace attack after Babar Azam won the coin toss and would have opted to play first. And when he laid down a thunderbolt from Naseem Shah on the extra cover fence from the last ball of the innings, he made sure the Sri Lankan bowlers had a decent 170/6 on the board to try the temperament of the Pakistani batting formation.
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Once they found the momentum, they stalked the Pakistani batting formation like a pack of wolves sniffing out the kill, battling hearts on their sleeves and bowling with impeccable planning. As Babar fell for five by flicking the ball short-legged, Mohammad Rizwan threw his bat in frustration at the other end. Pakistan never recovered from the pressure exerted on them.
Rizwan decided to take it upon himself to lead the game from deep with his 49 55 balls but Hasaranga and Pramod Madushan (4/20), playing in his second game, nibbled away wickets to claim a convincing victory.
This match was of great importance for Sri Lanka given the crisis in their country. At 58/5 with their captain Dasun Shanaka beating Shadab Khan in the ninth inning, it looked like the opportunity was coming to them. Haris Rauf and Mohammad Hasnain complemented Naseem in bowling with raw pace.
When Naseem’s deadly inswinger knocked down the stumps of in-form opener Kusal Mendis for a duck in the first round, Pakistan appeared to push the Lankan hitter to the back foot with his raw pace.
Rajapaksa had claimed that this Sri Lankan team was playing to rebuild the brand of cricket that Sri Lanka played with a few decades ago. And he did just that. Fearlessness, calculation, exuberance and elegance – all mixed in the right measure – Rajapaksa and Hasaranga began to rebuild the sleeves with aplomb. There were no chest shots in the middle from Rajapaksa even though every strike sparked punches into the dugout throughout the rounds. Rajapaksa was in an area where no one could crush his party.
While Rajapaksa kept one end safe with his measured approach, Hasaranga improvised and started using the extra pace from the Pakistani pacers. Hasaranga had Captain Babar scratching his head as he began to exploit every gap from midfield to third man in his innings which had five limits and a six.
When Hasaranga finally fell to become Rauf’s third wicket and 50th career T20I, he had created a waver in the Pakistani side. The partnership of 36 balls and 58 points had brought Sri Lanka back into the game.
Rajapaksa, hitting spaces in front of the wicket while striking with Hasaranga, started to move into the crease with a steady header targeting all parts of the pitch. Working the ball was not his way. He timed it like he was hitting on a concrete pitch. The wrist strikes sailed the thin leg and the punches found the limits. The onslaught saw Shadab Khan drop two skiers at the end of the heats. Obviously, Sri Lanka had to put the pressure back on Pakistan.