Asia Cup 2022: From 'Underdogs' To Asian Champions - The Story Of Sri Lanka's Emergence
Asia Cup 2022: Sri Lanka suffered a disappointing loss to Afghanistan in the tournament opener but they eventually went on to win the title by beating Pakistan in the final.
"I think in T20 cricket anything can happen, we can bounce back in next game," a gutted Sri Lanka skipper Dasun Shanaka had said after his team's disappointing loss to Afghanistan in the 2022 Asia Cup opener. Many experts had written the side off after the loss. To be honest, they were not among favorites to win the tournament either. Irrespective of the talks around, the group believed in its ability -- so much, that it eventually went on to win the 2022 Asia Cup - its 6th title - by beating teams like India and Pakistan, who were considered as favourites, on its way to glory.
A forgettable start
At the beginning, it seemed that the Asia Cup 2022 was not meant for Sri Lanka. The tournament, which would have taken place on their home soil, was shifted to UAE due to the unprecedented economic crisis in the island nation.
To add salt to injury, the Lankans lost their opening game to Afghanistan by 8 wickets. Their batters failed miserably and were bundled out for 105. To make it more tormenting for Sri Lanka, Afghanistan reached home in only 10.1 overs. Disappointment was at its peak for the then five-time Asia Cup champions, but their belief turned the tables for them.
The comeback and rise to glory
Sri Lanka defeated Bangladesh in a tense chase to enter the Super 4 of Asia Cup 2022. A thrilling victory that seemed like once in a blue moon for the Lankans soon became their style of play in the tournament.
Sri Lanka avenged their loss to Afghanistan with a four-wicket win in the Super 4 before handing a shock 6-wicket defeated to favourites India. They even went on to beat Pakistan before meeting the side in the final.
A sensational comeback story was in the making but Dasun Shanaka and company still needed to cross the final hurdle to make it all count and here came the final!
With their countrymen still suffering back home due to the economic crisis, here was the Sri Lankan team at the Dubai International Stadium, all set for the summit clash against Pakistan. A win could have given their nation something to rejoice in the tough time and would also lift the spirits of the team, which has stuggled in the recent past with its performances.
It's not that Sri Lanka had not stunned their opponents before this. Be it Australia or Pakistan in the recent past, even the best in business had been at the receiving end of Sri Lanka's brilliance. But consistency had been the biggest enemy of the side, for long. However, this time they had a different story to tell.
Pakistan skipper Babar Azam won the toss and invited Sri Lanka to bat first. The Dasun Shanaka-led side that had won all its games in the tournament while chasing had no option left but to set a target for Pakistan under the famous "Ring of Fire".
Sri Lanka were 58/5 in 8.5 overs and once again many would have written them off. But how can this worry a team that had entered the final of 2022 Asia Cup against all odds.
Bhanuka Rajapaksa (71 not out off 55) played a blinder for Sri Lanka and the bowlers did their job in the second innings to seal a 23-run win for the side, helping it bag a 6th Asia Cup title.
"It can happen to any team in the world," it was once again Dasun Shanaka speaking about the loss against Afghanistan but this time the tables had turned for him and his men.
"It happened for a good reason. We had serious discussions after that game. Each and every individual did well for us and that is how we became champions," concluded the confident Sri Lanka skipper with a superb comeback story that will make rounds for ages.
In the words of Jim George: “It's not how you start that's important, but how you finish!”