Asia Cup: Kusal Mendis stands out for spoiling Pakistan’s party

Special feeling to play back-to-back finals, Sri Lanka skipper Dashun Shanaka says

Kusal Mendis (Photo:  Twitter/Sri Lanka Cricket)
Kusal Mendis (Photo: Twitter/Sri Lanka Cricket)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

There is a saying in the global cricket fraternity – playing Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka is always a tough proposition. The Islanders once again showed why, as they pipped Pakistan, now the No.1 ranked side in ODIs, in a Super Four thriller in Asia Cup to set up a final against India on Sunday. 

There is an enigmatic quality about their game, much like the West Indies, as it swings from sublime to the depths of despair. The Asia Cup has, quite often, brought out the best in them as Sri Lanka have won it the most number of times (six) after India (seven) and they have now made back-to-back finals. They had spoiled the party for Pakistan in the same event (albeit in a T20 format) to emerge champions in the 2022 edition in the UAE. 

The defeat will surely rankle Pakistan, who on form are being rated as one of the title favourites for the ICC World Cup in October-November. It’s all a question of ifs and buts, but the way Kusal Mendis – a young veteran at 28 with 111 ODIs behind him – spearheaded a tricky chase with a fluent 91 in such a crucial game speaks volumes about his class. 

With Sri Lanka at 77 for two at one stage, it seemed the powerful Pakistan bowling attack was on the verge of wrestling control. This is where Mendis showed a great deal of maturity – using his feet against Shadab Khan & Co and playing them late and running a new-look pace attack on the ground as batting became easier under lights. He was disappointed at missing out on what would have been an extremely well-deserved century, but the 100-run partnership between him and Sadeera Samarawickrama (49) brought back Sri Lanka into the game. 

‘’The coaching staff and I discussed about the mistake we made against India. Wickets were given in the first 10 overs, today we did not want to make that mistake. Kusal and Sadeera are the best players of spin at the moment. Charith (Asalanka) was great. Has the character of a great player. Special feeling to play back-to-back finals. Thanks to the crowd,’’ skipper Shanaka said later.  

Looking back, it was not a complete performance from the winners, with DasunShanaka failing with the bat and the tail making a heavy weather of the last leg of the chase. But for Asalanka’s run-a-ball 49, the reigning champions would have had to end on the losing side on Thursday. 

While much is made about how the transition from the generation of Sangakkara-Jayawardene had proven to be difficult for Lanka, the diminutive Mendis looks equipped to maintain the tradition of their batter-keepers. Chris Silverwood’s team, however, need to raise their game if they want to catch India on the wrong foot in the final. The best option for Lanka to do that will be try and throttle the Indian strokemakers with a liberal dose of spin, but the absence of star leggie Wanindu Hasaranga due to injury will surely hurt them in that front. 

The fresh faced Dunith Wellalage, 20, the spinner-allrounder who won the Player of the Match award in their Super Four game against India with five wickets and an unbeaten 42, got the all-important wicket of Babar Azam by luring him to give the charge on Thursday. He had accounted for Virat Kohli early in their last game as left-arm spin continued to be the bugbear for India’s master batter though Men in Blue won that match to ensure themselves a final berth.  

It will be interesting to see if Wellalage can do an encore!

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Published: 15 Sep 2023, 6:06 PM