The economic crisis has formed the backdrop for much of Sri Lanka’s Asia Cup campaign. But their brand of cricket and some landmark wins – like the ODI series triumph over Australia at home and now the Asia Cup title – have come as a balm. On Sunday, in fact, the Sri Lanka women’s team were crowned Asian netball champions. For a people desperately seeking solace through sporting glory, this was a night to remember.
For the cricketers, it was not just that they won, but the manner in which they managed to turn the screws. Written off at the halfway mark of their innings, with 67 for 5 on the board, Sri Lanka launched a sensational comeback courtesy Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Wanindu Hasaranga. The pair put on 58 off just 30 balls, which eventually pushed them to 170 for 6, which proved 23 too many for Pakistan.
“We always wanted to show the world – a couple of decades back, we had aggression in our side, and we wanted to create those moments [again] as a unit,” Rajapaksa said after the win. “Looking forward, we want to keep up this momentum ahead of the World Cup. With the crisis happening back home, this is a tough time for all the Sri Lankans, but hope we brought some smiles on the faces of our people. This is to the whole nation; they were waiting for this for so long.”
Smiling beside Rajapaksa was his captain, Dasun Shanaka. In his hour of glory as a leader, he heaped praise on the team for responding so well to some tough backroom words after being ambushed by Afghanistan on the opening night.
“After that first loss, we had a serious discussion.” Shanaka revealed. “We knew we had the talent, but it was about applying those in game scenarios and all the players stood up. It’s the environment we created as a team and coaching staff that has paid off.”
While at it, Shanaka also gave a message back to the fans. It seemed more like a plea. “Believe in our cricketers,” he said. “A lot of bad things are going around. As cricketers, they too should enjoy their lives as well, not spreading bad things. They have private lives too. Keep believing, that is the key. As a captain, I give confidence to the players, [whatever] I can. I can’t ask more than that.”
Those weren’t empty words. Shanaka’s motivational skills were tested at different times in the final. In the very first over of their defence, a nervous Dilshan Madushanka conceded nine runs without bowling a single legitimate delivery, with a free hit to follow.