Asia Cup 2014 Final Results: Thirimanne Century, Malinga Five-For Take Sri Lanka to Classy Win over Valiant Pakistan
By Deepak Vikraman | March 9, 2014 2:51 AM EST
Fawad Alam and Lahiru Thirimanne could not be more different to watch. One Shivnarine Chanderpaul-like, with a weird stance, but quite effective; the other more classical and elegant.
On Saturday, the Asia Cup final day at the Shere Bangla Stadium in Mirpur, both scored brilliant centuries, one a back-to-the-wall hundred of real note, and the other a carefree, killing-you-softly ton.
At the end of the day, Thirimanne's hundred proved to be the winning one, with Alam's first ODI hundred, under tremendous pressure with Pakistan in serious trouble, coming to nought as Sri Lanka eased to the Asia Cup title - their first since 2008 -- remaining unbeaten for the entire tournament.
Choosing to bat first, Pakistan were in real trouble, losing three wickets in a hurry, before Alam (114 n.o.), Misbah-ul-Haq (64) and Umar Akmal (59) helped their side to 260 for five in 50 overs, in spite of Lasith Malinga (five for 56) taking his second straight five-for against Pakistan.
In reply, Sri Lanka were rarely troubled, despite Kumar Sangakkara's golden duck, as Thirimanne (101) and back-in-form Mahela Jayawardene (75) made the target look as easy as an apple pie to help their side home, with the Islanders finishing on 261 for five in 46.2 overs for a comfortable five-wicket victory.
Kusal Perera got Sri Lanka off to a rollicking start, smashing boundaries left, right and centre, with some of them reminding you of the great Sanath Jayasuriya, who was watching, this young Sri Lankan side strut their stuff, from the stands.
Thirimanne, at the other end, was going along quietly, without looking too dangerous, while actually hitting Pakistan hard. Perera's (42, 37b, 6x4, 1x6) boundary glut allowed Sri Lanka to the start they were looking for, with the score reading 56 after the first ten overs.
However, Saeed Ajmal, who finished with Ajmal-like figures of 10-2-26-3, brought Pakistan right back into the game with some brilliant bowling, first dismissing Perera, who whiffed at thin air while coming out of his crease, allowing Umar Akmal to complete a simple stumping, before sending the in-form Kumar Sangakkara back first ball, trapping the left-hander in front of the stumps.
Pakistan were sensing a way into the Sri Lanka lower-middle order now, knowing a wicket or two more and they would be favourites in a high-pressure final. They would have fancied their chances too, with Mahela Jayawardene going through a slump.
But then, the right-hander is one of Sri Lanka's all-time greats for good reason, and with Thirimanne looking pretty good at the other end, Jayawardene set out his stall in the middle, killing Pakistan and their spirit softly.
A partnership of 156 from just 27 overs, took Sri Lanka to the brink of victory, with Pakistan, their hopes shattering, losing the plot in the field as well, courtesy a few misfields and a dropped catch or two, while the salt was rubbed into the gaping wounds with the inspirational Shahid Afridi unable to pull those rabbits out of his hat as he struggled with injury.
Thirimanne was just quite outstanding really, making Jayawardene (75, 93b, 9x4, 1x6) play second fiddle in the partnership - something that is near impossible to do.
Jayawardene, happy to have found his form, and looking to finish the game of quickly holed out to Sharjeel Khan off Mohammad Talha in the 38th over, with Sri Lanka needing just 49 runs.
Thirimanne (101, 108b, 13x4), however, continued his merry way, getting to his century, and taking Sri Lanka to the Asia Cup title, with skipper Angelo Mathews and Chaturanga De Silva finishing things off, after the left-hander's late dismissal .
Pakistan got off to a cracking start in the first three deliveries of the match, with Sharjeel Khan, back in the team at the expense of Sohaib Maqsood, caressing a couple of delightful boundaries through the offside off Malinga.
Malinga is not one of the best ODI bowlers in the world for nothing, though, and the irrepressible slinger got back at the left-hander, swinging one in at the feet and inducing a lofted shot which went straight to Thisara Perera at mid-on.
Pakistan were already on the back foot after the fall of the first wicket, and Sri Lanka, who surprisingly left out Ajantha Mendis for the final, increased their hold on the game with Malinga bowling that wonderful out-swinger to pick up an outside edge off the bat of Ahmed Shehzad.
That put Pakistan on 17 for two after three overs, with their two most experienced batsmen - Mohammed Hafeez and Misbah-ul-Haq -- given the job of getting the innings back on track.
However, Hafeez would not stick around for too long either as Malinga made it three wickets out of three overs, inducing another outside edge off a try-and-hit-me-carrot delivery outside off stump, with Sangakkara making no mistake behind the stumps.
So it was the same old Pakistan script again, where Misbah was expected to play yet another captain's I-dig-my-team-out-of-trouble-time-and-again knock, with the skipper hoping Fawad Alam, who made a wonderful half-century against Bangladesh in the last game, would stick around with him at the other end.
That proved to be the case as Misbah, lucky to survive in the 21st over when he seemed to nick one off Angelo Mathews, which would have put Pakistan in some serious trouble, and Alam (114, 134b, 8x4, 3x6) stitched together an innings-saving partnership of 122 in 32.1 overs, pulling Pakistan from the precipice of 18 for three to a now-that's-better 140.
The batting powerplay again worked in the bowling side's favour, though, as Misbah (65, 98b 3x4, 2x6), looking to accelerate, holed out at mid-on off Malinga, who picked up his fourth wicket.
With a little over 13 overs remaining, at 140 for four, there was still plenty to do for Pakistan who needed that final injection of swashbuckling attacking power to pull them over the 250-line.
In stepped Umar Akmal, who played a blinder, with Alam kicking into top gear simultaneously - the duo put on 115 in 13 overs -- as Pakistan zoomed to a million miles an hour in the blink of an eye, scoring 101 runs in the final ten overs.
Akmal (59, 42b, 7x4) was at his usual belligerent best, scoring boundaries at will, while Alam stormed to his first ODI century with a stunning pick-up six over midwicket. Akmal would fall in the final over to Malinga, who was the only bowler to have any number other than zero in the wickets column for Sri Lanka, but by then the damage was done.
The damage, though, proved to be not enough, as Sri Lanka, the best team in the Asia Cup 2014, marched to the title with consummate ease.
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