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    Written by Jamie Alter

    It’s Sri Lanka vs India in the Asia Cup final

    September 15, 2023

    The Asia Cup organisers and broadcasters will not get the revenue-generating final they wanted – and tried to orchestrate – with Pakistan being pipped by co-hosts Sri Lanka in a see-sawing last-ball virtual semi-final in Colombo.

    Sri Lanka, who won the World Cup Qualifiers, maintained their form to 13 unbeaten ODIs before India stopped them at the Premadasa. Two days later, the defending Asia Cup champions were set a tough target of 252 from 42 overs by Pakistan, for whom Mohammad Rizwan top-scored with an unbeaten 86.

    And by chasing that DL-revised target off the last ball and with two wickets left in frenetic scenes at 1:08am local time on Friday, Sri Lanka kept alive their title defence to make their 11th Asia Cup final. The heroes of this chase were Kusal Mendis with 91, Sadeera Samarawickrama with 48 and the ice man Charith Asalanka who hit the winning runs – two off the final delivery – to finish 49 not out. It is a fitting final, given how consistent Sri Lanka have been and also because of how resounding the support was for a first India versus Pakistan final at the Asia Cup.

    For a team without four frontline bowlers in Dushmantha Chameera, Wanindu Hasaranga, Dilshan Madushanka and Lahiru Kumara, and carrying some out of form batsmen, Sri Lanka have done exceedingly well to join India in the final. In bits and pieces, this spirited team has risen from the tougher of the two groups to finish second in the Super Four stage, and are now headed to a final against the only unbeaten team in the tournament.

    For Rohit Sharma’s team, reaching the final of the Asia Cup is big. Though ranked third on the ICC ODI table, India have struggled in their past two bilateral series and the injuries to Jasprit Bumrah, Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul added to their struggles. After consecutive 3-0 sweeps of Sri Lanka and New Zealand at the start of the year, India were jolted at home by Australia, and then this summer they struggled to defeat a West Indian team that had failed to qualify for the World Cup, eventually winning 2-1 but not convincingly.

    Thus, when the team arrived in Sri Lanka for the Asia Cup, reaching the final was not a foregone conclusion. Also, in 2022 the Indian team failed to reach the final of the same tournament when it was played in the T20I format.

    The washout against Pakistan was followed by a ten-wicket thrashing of Nepal and then came the two-day rematch with Babar Azam’s No 1 ranked team, which India dominated from start to finish to seal a record 228-run victory.  A day later, India overcame a feeble innings against Sri Lanka’s spinners to confirm their place in the Asia Cup final.

    The positives have been, chiefly, Rahul’s return from more than four months away from cricket. Not initially chosen for the second Pakistan match, Rahul got his chance when shortly before the toss Iyer pulled out with a back spasm. Batting at No 4, Rahul scored his sixth and so far, best ODI century and then kept wickets smoothly. This was followed by a very solid 39 on a rank turner the next day, and further assured work behind the stumps.

    Bumrah, back in ODIs after more than a year, has shown all signs of being ready for the World Cup next month, which is a massive plus for the Indian cricket team. Also, getting Shubman Gill – now ranked second in ODIs – the return to solid form after a lean run in the West Indies has been refreshing.

    If India can extend this sudden shot of momentum in Sunday’s final, it will send them into the World Cup with renewed confidence. Three ODIs at home remain against Australia, for any final tinkering required, but nothing will feel better than lifting the tournament they bombed at last year.



    About the Author

    Written by Jamie Alter

    Jamie Alter is a sports journalist, author, commentator, anchor, actor, and YouTuber who has covered multiple cricket World Cups and other major sporting events while working with ESPNcricinfo, Cricbuzz, Network 18, the Zee Group and as Digital Sports Editor of the Times of India. Follow Jamie on Twitter, Youtube and Instagram.

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