Mendis and Asalanka secure difficult chase to set up India-SL final

Kusal Mendis’ foundation-setting innings and Charith Asalanka’s pivotal finale helped Sri Lanka upset Pakistan in a last-ball thriller by two wickets. It was always going to be difficult to chase down 252 in 42 overs, but some solid middle-order partnerships gave Sri Lanka the chance to pull off an incredible run chase against a strong Pakistan attack.

Kusal Perera, who was attempting to chase down 252, got off to the briefest of starts, blasting four boundaries in seven balls, before being caught short at the bowler’s end by a brilliant direct hit from Shadab Khan at point, despite a frantic dive. Despite the early loss, Sri Lanka didn’t lose hope. Kusal Mendis and Pathum Nissanka kept the needed run rate going for a half-century before the latter skied a return catch to Shadab.

After joining Mendis at the crease, Sadeera Samarawickrama scored quickly, punishing the bad deliveries and, more importantly, rotating the strike so the bowlers couldn’t work them over. Samarawickrama was also struck on the helmet by a Shaheen Afridi bouncer, necessitating a concussion test. The Sri Lankan hitter went on to set up a hundred-run stand with Mendis, however, it appeared that his helmet had rescued him.

However, Samarawickrama moved out to Iftikhar Ahmed on the very next ball, flicking for the nonexistent spin, and was subsequently stumped. Asalanka and Mendis then engaged in another 33-run stand, but Mendis popped a leading edge to cover, where Mohammad Haris made a spectacular grab by diving in front of the ball.

The procession started at 210-3 and ended at 246-8, giving us an exciting conclusion. Soon after, Shanaka left again for Iftikhar, who was continuing to irritate Sri Lanka. Asalanka maintained the needed rate at the other end with some well-timed boundaries, but Shaheen Shah Afridi then took two wickets in one over, conceding only four runs, and put Sri Lanka in a vulnerable situation with 8 to win off 6 and three wickets left.

In the final over, a headless Pramod was run out, but not before awarding Asalanka the strike. After Zaman Khan had only allowed two out of the first four shots, the latter was under duress, but he edged the penultimate ball for four to tip the scales in Sri Lanka’s favor. Asalanka won the game with a clip of a slower half-volley on the pads, sending the Colombo audience into a frenzy more than an hour after midnight.

When choosing to bat first, Pakistan earlier won the toss and lost Fakhar Zaman early. After Abdullah Shafique and Babar Azam’s fifty-minute stand, Pakistan’s innings imploded to 130-5 before the rain break due to a middle-order collapse. Mohammad Rizwan and Iftikhar Ahmed’s century stand saved them, as their late counterattack propelled Pakistan to a respectable score that ultimately fell just short of being sufficient. Sri Lanka has advanced to the Asia Cup final eleven times. On Sunday, September 17, they will play India in the championship game.

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