If their Super 4 match earlier in the week was a slugfest – a contest taken into the late rounds between two teams that had their share of momentum before the better side won – Sunday's Asia Cup final was more a mismatch between two opponents in completely different weight classes, as heavyweights India completely battered, bruised, bloodied and bashed-in Sri Lanka’s flyweight batting line-up for an emphatic 10-wicket win.
Sri Lanka were bowled out for 50, an innings that lasted just 15.2 overs, as Mohammad Siraj ran through the home team’s top order, for figures of 6 for 13, before Hardik Pandya cleaned up the tail with three wickets.
In response, India barely broke a sweat as the tournament’s leading run scorer Shubman Gill and Ishan Kishan, promoted to open the batting, knocked off the total in 6.1 overs without losing a wicket as they claimed an eighth Asia Cup title.
It was Sri Lanka’s second worst total in ODIs after being bowled for 43 against South Africa in Paarl,South Africa in 2012, making this their worst defeat, and performance, at home in this format.
They would have taken heart from their performance against this same opposition on Tuesday, having bowled out one of the world’s best batting line ups for 212, before losing by 41 runs, a margin of victory that betrayed the actual close nature of the contest. But there was no doubt on Sunday that there was a significant difference in quality between the two teams, one making a strong claim as a veritable favourite for the Cricket World Cup, and the other left scratching their heads ahead of the game’s showpiece event.
Among the questions that will now need to be answered is that of the future of team captain, Dasun Shanaka, whose merit for a place in the team, leave alone his position as captain, has been questioned amidst a poor run of form with the bat, and the strength of this particular batting line-up, or rather the need to add to it.
That this embarrassing defeat came in front of a capacity Premadasa crowd was even more disappointing, with Sri Lankan supporters hardly given a moment to celebrate – a far cry from the delirium seen in these very stand during Thursday’s win against Pakistan – instead sitting in silence as the home team’s batsmen were left clueless against a high quality pace bowling attack.
It didn’t help that when Shanaka won the toss, he chose to bat under bright, sunny skies, but when openers Kusal Janith Perera and Pathum Nissanka walked out to face the first over, they did so under heavily overcast conditions, after the innings was delayed by 40 minutes due to a heavy drizzle.
Those conditions played into the Indian pace bowlers’ hands, an unbelievable piece of fortune for the Indian captain Rohit Sharma, who had expressed a desire for his team to have batted had he won the toss.
For all the success that Siraj would go on to have, it was Jasprit Bumrah who made the first breakthrough, as Kusal Janith Perera swiped at a delivery moving away from him, and edging through to keeper KL Rahul on the third ball of the innings.
Siraj then teased what was about to follow, when he beat Kusal Mendis’ outside edge four times in his first over, with the right-arm fast bowler repeatedly dropping the ball into the perfect line and length and proving unplayable even for Sri Lanka’s most in-form batsman.
He then began his incision into Sri Lanka’s top order, dismissing Pathum Nissanka on the first ball of his second over, the opener pushing the ball to backward point, where Ravindra Jadeja scooped up a dying catch, and then trapping Sadeera Samarawickrama leg before wicket two balls later.
Charith Asalanka then picked out the fielder at cover on the next delivery, when he aimlessly pushed at a ball outside off stump, Sri Lanka slumping to 8 for 4.
Facing the hat-trick ball, Dhananjaya de Silva confidently punched Siraj for a boundary to long-off, but it would prove a day when even he could not be the hero, edging the next delivery behind for Rahul to take an easy catch.
Siraj completed his first-ever five-wicket haul in his next over, beating Shanaka’s defense and clattering into his stumps, the home team on 12 for 6 at that point -- taking four of wickets in one over.
A partnership of 21 between Kusal Mendis and Dunith Wellalage only prolonged what always appeared inevitable – Sri Lanka posting a total that would be nowhere in the realm of defendable – when Siraj had his sixth wicket six overs later, breaching Mendis’ defense.
25 balls later, the innings was wrapped up, with Hardik Pandya claiming the wickets of Wellalage, Pramod Madushan and Matheesha Pathirana, for the addition of 17 runs.
(Shehan Daniel at the R. Premadasa Stadium)