DESPITE their victory over the same opposition just days earlier, Sri Lanka still went into the Asia Cup final against Pakistan as the underdogs. It was a match that seemed Pakistan’s to lose but for the second time in three nights, the tournament favourites went down without a whimper and missed out on a chance to win the continental crown for the first time in a decade.

Sri Lanka had sounded a warning on Friday, winning the Super Four clash between the two teams that had largely been reduced to a dress rehearsal for the final. Pakistan did not heed it. On Sunday, they once again came unstuck, dashing the hopes of their expectant nation. For Sri Lanka on the other hand, their well-deserved victory spread joy in their recession-hit country.

Read: 5 takeaways after Sri Lanka outsmart Pakistan in Asia Cup final

The manner of Pakistan’s defeat, though, was troubling. The toss has been crucial at the Asia Cup, and when Babar put Sri Lanka into bat after winning it, the odds were stacked firmly in Pakistan’s favour. The pacers’ early burst put Pakistan well and truly on top but midway through the Sri Lanka innings everything started going quickly downhill.

Faced with a stiff 171 to win, Pakistan once again used their sluggish, safety-first strategy that puts pressure on a middle order which can’t be expected to deliver every time. This time, it didn’t. The upcoming England series offers a chance to experiment and address those issues, but Saqlain Mushtaq’s contention in the aftermath of the final that he sees no problems with the team’s strategy means Pakistan will once again be heavily reliant on the top three — Babar, Mohammad Rizwan and Fakhar Zaman — to provide them with a solid, albeit slow, start.

It was a scintillating cameo from Mohammad Nawaz that saw Pakistan down India before tailender Naseem Shah’s blitz secured a thrilling triumph over Afghanistan. Those wins had raised hopes that Pakistan’s name was written on the trophy. Instead, it’s Sri Lanka who are taking it home.

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2022

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