Tail-ender Asitha Fernando showed exceptional composure under pressure to hit two match-defining boundaries that took Sri Lanka to the Super 4 of the Asia Cup with a thrilling two-wicket victory over bitter rivals Bangladesh here on Thursday. Chasing a target of 184, Sri Lanka won with an anti-climax reserved for the final over when off-spinner Mahedi Hasan overstepped while bowling the third delivery. While Kusal Mendis (60 off 37 balls) and skipper Dasun Shanaka (45 off 33 balls) set up the victory, it wouldn’t have been possible without Fernando’s brilliant temperament.
Debutant Fernando first hit the last ball of the 19th over by Ebadot Hossain (3/51 in 4 overs) for a boundary to bring the equation down to eight runs in one over.
With Bangladesh skipper Shakib Al Hasan having already exhausted Mustafizur Rahaman’s quota of overs, he had no option but to give inexperienced Mahedi the ball and Fernando slog swept his second delivery to seal the fate of the game, which could have otherwise belonged to Ebadot.
To rub it in, the Sri Lankans did the ‘Nagin Dance’ patented by the Bangladeshi cricketers as the pre-match build-up has been anything but sober.
Ebadot, the sprightly speedster, who also happens to be a Bangladesh Air Force man, bowled a good first spell of two overs in which he bowled three short balls that accounted for three Lankan batters.
His pace bowling partner Taskin Ahmed also used the bumper to get rid of the fourth Sri Lankan batter in Bhanuka Rakapaksa.
Incidentally, Sri Lankan skipper Shanaka had declared that Bangladesh only had two world class bowlers in opposition skipper Shakib Al Hasan and cutter-master Mustafizur Rahaman, something that ‘Tigers’ manager Khaled Mahmud Sujon had taken an exception to.
However, Ebadot and Taskin with their extra pace and bounce were out to prove the Lankans wrong before Shanaka was out to prove himself as a soothsayer.
The 13th over of the innings yielded 22 runs as Shanaka hit Ebadot for two sixes — one over deep mid-wicket and other, a pick-up pull behind square. That became the turning point.
Mendis, who had maintained the momentum at one end, finally perished after a well-made 60 off 37 balls that had four boundaries and three sixes when his ramp shot was holed out in third man region off Mustafizur’s delivery.
Shanaka carried on manfully, hitting those boundaries as he started running out of partners when Wanindu Hasaranga got out.
Shanaka (45 off 33 balls), who had to do the heavy lifting during the death overs, was finally out trying to play one shot too many as left-arm spinner Mahedi got the vital breakthrough.
Earlier, Bangladesh youngsters Afif Hossain and Mosaddek Hossain played impactful knocks at various stages of the innings to help their team reach a commanding 183 for seven. Afif (39 off 22 balls) and Mahmudullah (27 off 22) added 57 runs in just 6.1 overs for the fifth wicket to ensure that Bangladesh lay the platform to cross the 180-run mark.
Then Mosaddek played a brilliant cameo, smashing 24 off nine balls to help Bangladesh reach a more than respectable total.
The match that garnered a lot of attention due to a statement by Sri Lankan skipper Shanaka and a counter-reply by Bangladesh team manager Sujon, saw both the teams scrap it out.
After the first innings, it was ‘even stevens’ as Sri Lanka “without any world class bowlers” as Mahmud had termed the opposition attack, did well enough till 14th over, only to lose the plot towards the end.
Bangladesh, on their part, could claim upper-hand as despite losing wickets at regular intervals, they kept up the tempo to post a challenging total in the end.
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