After a decisive victory over Pakistan in the final, Sri Lanka won the Asia Cup for the sixth time, giving the country’s citizens something to celebrate amid recent political and economic unrest.
It seemed only natural that the team that was thoroughly outplayed in its very first game would go on to win the championship in one of the most thrilling multi-nation competitions in recent memory.
The Sri Lankan team, which had been competitive in recent games but wasn’t considered one of the title favourites, started their campaign with a crushing eight-wicket defeat at the hands of a determined Afghanistan team over the past two weeks. The Sri Lankan board would have started booking their return tickets to Colombo after losing their fourth wicket for just 77 runs despite needing to score 183 to win the following Group B match against Bangladesh.
However, wicketkeeper-batsman Kusal Mendis had other ideas, and along with the rest of the middle and lower order, they heralded the start of one of the most stunning comebacks the game has seen in a while.
After narrowly defeating Bangladesh by two wickets in a thrilling match, Sri Lanka did not look back, racking up a hat-trick of victories in the Super 4 stage before dominating Pakistan in the championship match to win their first significant multi-nation competition in eight years.
Former Pakistani speedster Shoaib Akhtar was questioned about the 2011 World Cup semifinal matchup against India in Mohali during an interview with IBN7 for the launch of his autobiography Controversially Yours by anchor Ashutosh. Akhtar emphasised in the interview how Pakistan needed the victory more than India did in that illustrious match in front of a packed PCA Stadium, saying, “Hume zyada zaroorat thi (We needed it more)”
He cited the catastrophic circumstances at home as justification for his analysis, citing a number of other causes such as corruption, a collapse in governance, and dealing with the impacts of terrorism. A victory, according to the “Rawalpindi Express,” would have brought a country in an unprecedented level of turmoil together.
Asia Cup 2022
After all, sports do have the power to bring individuals from different backgrounds, beliefs, and geographical locations together. People do look to sport as an escape from their terrible reality, even in the darkest of times.
Despite being for a different team, Akhtar’s sentiments still hold true more than ten years after that interview, which was conducted shortly after he announced his retirement from the sport. Ironically, Pakistan ended up accidentally giving that healing touch to the Sri Lankan team on Sunday during the summit match in Dubai thanks to a number of dropped catches, some errant bowling in the final overs, and their sluggish approach with the bat.
Sri Lanka has been struggling for months, possibly experiencing the worst economic and political crises the world has seen in years. This struggle is not limited to the world of cricket. The average Sri Lankan has had a very difficult time of it lately, with the country running out of fuel, power, and other necessities while barely having enough money to keep its population fed and clothed. Anger-filled citizens even stormed the Presidential palace to force a complete change in the government.
Former cricketers Sanath Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama joined rallies against former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, while other ex-players were seen selling tea and buns on the streets of Colombo. And eventually conditions on the island became so bad that Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) was obliged to hold the tournament in the United Arab Emirates, a paradise for cricket (UAE)
Maybe Sri Lanka needed this victory more than anyone else—at least, that’s how the Lankan fans will undoubtedly feel. And the sharp decline after 2015 would have been a particularly difficult pill to chew for a country that was considered one of the powerhouses from the late 1990s to the early 2010s. In particular, they frequently lost to the Indians, both at home and away, and occasionally found it difficult to compete with groups like Zimbabwe.
The team occasionally shown flashes of brilliance, as it did during the legendary Test series in South Africa in 2019, but it was impossible for them to consistently recapture the glory of the past.There would have been tears of delight in the eyes of past cricketers as well as the supporters present at the game as well as at home to watch a squad that was absolutely devoid of star power in their ranks, as one Bangladesh team official put it so brilliantly during the group stage of the competition. The club may not yet have superstars, though players like Wanindu Hasaranga are well on their way to someday developing into one, but it did have the qualities necessary for success—hunger and desire.
And who knows, this triumph might have the same impact on Sri Lankan cricket that the triumphs in the 1996 World Cup and the 1983 World Cup had on the preceding generation. For once, captain Dasun Shanaka and coach Chris Silverwood have a team that has confidence in themselves and fights to the last end.
Sri Lanka will, at the at least, be considered a title contender for the T20 World Cup, which begins next month in Australia. And up until that time, Shanaka and company will have accomplished enough to guarantee that daily Sri Lankans have reasons to grin.