The entire focus of the Asia Cup has been on India and Pakistan. But Sri Lanka, as was the case in the last edition where they emerged as surprise winners of the tournament held in the T20 format, are sending warning signals again. And they are doing it in style too, with their 21-run win over Bangladesh at the R. Premadasa Stadium on Saturday being their 13th consecutive one in ODIs with only the Australian team of 2003 ahead of them.
Sri Lanka may not have big names in their squad, but in their own conditions where there is a balance between bat and ball, they have all the resources to excel. Of course, there is a long way to go, but it is also pertinent to remember that this is a depleted Sri Lanka squad missing four of its first-choice players due to injuries.
The contests between these two teams over the last few years have gone down the wire, but on Saturday, once Sri Lanka took command in the second half of the match, they never let it go. If Sadeera Samarawickrama and Kusal Mendis were the star cast with the bat, it was the trio of skipper Dasun Shanaka, Matheesha Pathirana and Maheesh Theekshana who inflicted all the damage on Bangladesh.
Having chosen to field first and make use of the pitch that had been under covers for the most part of last week, Bangladesh did well to restrict Sri Lanka to 257/9. When Mendis in the company of Pathum Nissanka stitched a 74-run stand for the second wicket after the early loss of Dimuth Karunaratne, Lanka were motoring along effortlessly. But left-arm seamer Shoriful Islam removed both in successive overs to peg back the hosts and from there on, it became a single-man show with the bat as Samarawickrama took charge. Even though wickets fell regularly at the other end, Samarawickrama showed his range, taking only 72 balls for his 93 which included eight boundaries and two sixes.
Although 257/9 was not a par total, it was definitely not a bad one to defend on a pitch that has a tendency to get slower under lights. With the ball stopping a bit, Shanaka not only used his resources well, but also delivered key strikes of Mohammad Naim, Mehidy Hasan Miraz and Mushfiqur Rahim himself. Coming in at No. 6, 22-year-old Towhid Hridoy showed why he is rated highly, and like Samarawickrama, paced his innings very well as Sri Lanka kept chipping away at the other end. There was a bit of hiccup in the Sri Lanka camp when Hridoy was beginning to stitch a partnership with Rahim, but Shanaka ensured none were going to spoil his birthday.