The tumultuous conditions in their country meant that hosts and eventual winners Sri Lanka could not host the Asia Cup 2022 at home. Sri Lankan tourism was advertised mid-innings several times and each time it was, there was a fleeting reminder about why the tournament was being held in the UAE instead of the island nation, with Sri Lanka Cricket still technically hosting the event.
And so, the Dasun Shanaka-led side was aiming to play for the fans back home, against a grim backdrop after the daily lives were affected by the political turmoil, including blackouts, fuel shortages and protests.
Sri Lanka’s campaign started with a no contest as they succumbed to an eight-wicket loss against Afghanistan. However, they bounced back with five victories on the trot in what was a memorable campaign that not only provided a glimmer of hope for the fans but also one that can help them when they play the T20 World Cup Qualifiers next month.
In a situation where everything could have gone wrong and nobody could blame them, Sri Lanka not only had new players rising to the occasion but also succeeding in scripting a story to remember. And, that script can largely be attributed to the heroes who stood up for the team throughout the tournament.
Here’s a look at the players who stepped up for Sri Lanka as they scripted a remarkable Asia Cup 2022 triumph:
Player of the series, leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga picked up nine wickets at an average of 18.89 in six matches. Although he was relatively quiet in the first four matches and picked up just three wickets in total, going wicketless against Afghanistan and India in the Super Fours stage, he came back strongly in the dress rehearsal against Pakistan and in the final with three wickets apiece in both games. To add to that, he played a match-winning 36-run cameo in the final to help Sri Lanka recover after they were left reeling at 58/5 within nine overs.
For a lower middle order batter to make an impact as consistently as Bhanuka Rajapaksa did is the dream of any team management. With 191 runs scored at an average of 47.75 and a strike rate of 149.22 in six matches, he made several key contributions with the bat. However, the most important one came in the final against Pakistan, where he combined with Hasaranga to build a stunning 71-run partnership to pull his team out of the trenches. Player of the final, without a doubt. And to think he had retired from the game briefly earlier this year.
The right-arm bowler did not play all the six matches in the tournament but in the two games he did play (both against Pakistan,) he picked up six wickets at an average of 9.17. The all-important performance came in the final where he bagged a four-for, denting the Pakistan chase in a way that ensured they never recovered. Along with Dilshan Madushanka, another impressive young pacer who sent Virat Kohli’s stumps into disarray in one of the moments of the tournament for SL, Madushan ensured that his side did not severely miss the services of their premier pacer Dushmantha Chameera. In the absence of the IPL recruit, who did not feature in the tournament due to injury, Sri Lanka’s pace bowling attack was a source of concern but the newcomers delivered.
With two match-winning contributions in the Asia Cup – one in the group stage against Bangladesh (60) and another against India (57*) in the Super Fours – the right-handed opener played a key role in helping Sri Lanka qualify for the final. Pakistan did well to get him out on nought in both the matches late on in the tournament but with 155 runs at an average of 25.83 and a strike rate of 156.57, Mendis proved to be an important player for his team.
Before the Super Fours encounter against India, captain Dasun Shanaka said: “When it comes to Asian cricket games, it’s majorly India-Pakistan games everyone talks about, but we’ve got a very good team, which can win. So I don’t mind the big talks, but rather concentrate on the way we are playing.”
Sri Lanka not only went on to upset India and knock them out of the tournament, they went on to win the whole thing and a large part of it can be attributed to his leadership. He also played two important cameos in the tournament – one against Bangladesh (45) and another against India (33* and 2/26) – that contributed greatly to his team’s dream run in the tournament. He was the player of the match in the all-important battle against India for his all-round efforts.
He ended the tournament saying: “They were waiting for it for so long, especially the final. We should dedicate this win to the whole nation.”