|| AFP ||
Bhanuka Rajapaksa on Sunday said Sri Lanka's cricket has proved a point to the world with their sixth Asia Cup title after his unbeaten 71 set up a commanding 23-run win over Pakistan.
Fast bowler Pramod Madushan (4-34) and Wanindu Hasaranga (3-27) shared seven wickets between them to bowl out Pakistan for 147 while chasing 171 in Dubai.
Earlier the left-handed Rajapaksa put on a key 58-run stand for the sixth wicket with Hasaranga, who hit 36, to help Sri Lanka to 170-6 after being in trouble at 58-5.
Sri Lanka, who had to abandon plans to host the competition due to political unrest, bounced back from an embarrassing opening defeat by Afghanistan to win the tournament, a curtain-raiser for next month's T20 World Cup in Australia.
"We always wanted to show the whole world (what we can do)," said man of the match Rajapaksa.
"Some decades back we had some sort of aggression in our side and we wanted to create those moments again. As a unit we are doing fantastically well at the moment and we look forward to the World Cup," Rajapaksa said.
"As a nation it's a great win with all the crisis happening back home, these are tough times for Sri Lankans. We hope we brought some smiles on their faces."
The Asia Cup success for the cricket-crazy nation comes after miserable months of severe economic crisis followed by blackouts, fuel shortages and protests.
Sri Lanka, however, will have to play the qualifiers in Australia before getting a chance to meet the heavyweights in the main draw starting October 22 but skipper Dasun Shanaka said the momentum will help them sail through.
Pakistan skipper Babar Azam won the toss, choosing to field first with nine of the previous 12 matches won by the teams chasing.
Bucked the trend
But Sri Lanka bucked the trend as the island nation overcame an inspired opening spell of bowling by Pakistan quicks Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf.
"I want to congratulate Sri Lanka. Outstanding cricket. The way we dominated them early, their partnership after that was outstanding," said Azam.
Rajapaksa and Hasaranga rebuilt the innings and regularly found the boundary to up the scoring rate.
Rauf dismissed Hasaranga, who hit five fours and one six in his 21-ball knock, caught behind for his 50th T20 wicket to break the dangerous stand.
Rajapaksa kept up the attack and survived a dropped catch by Shadab Khan in the deep, soon reaching his third T20 half-century.
Rajapaksa, who finished the innings with a four and six off Naseem in his 45-ball blitz, and Chamika Karunaratne put on 54 runs to further boost the total.
"Of course it is a wonderful moment and one of the best innings I played in a short period of time," Rajapaksa, who made his T20 debut in 2019, said.
"Hoping I could play some match-winning knocks in the future as well for the Sri Lanka side."
Left-arm quick Dilshan Madushanka bowled a shaky opening over, starting with a no-ball and four wides.
Playing just his second T20, Madushan had Azam caught at short fine-leg for five and then bowled Fakhar Zaman for a first-ball duck the following delivery.
Mohammad Rizwan (55) and Iftikhar Ahmed (32) put together a partnership of 71 but Madushan broke the stand with the wicket of Iftikhar.
Rizwan, who surpassed India's Virat Kohli as the highest run-getter of the tournament with 282, reached his fifty with a six off Chamika Karunaratne but soon fell to Hasaranga's leg-spin and the wheels came off the chase.
Karunaratne got Rauf out on the final ball to trigger Sri Lankan celebrations.
"We didn't finish the way we would've wanted to," said Azam. "But there are lots of positives from the tournament."