Birthday boy Bhanuka revels in memorable triumph

Bhanuka Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka plays a shot as Nurul Hasan of Bangladesh looks on during the ICC Men's T20 World Cup match between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh at Sharjah Cricket Stadium on October 24, 2021 in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.
Bhanuka Rajapaksa may have skipped his birthday breakfast but he had more than enough fuel in the tank to help inspire a memorable five-wicket Sri Lanka victory over Bangladesh.

Bhanuka Rajapaksa may have skipped his birthday breakfast but he had more than enough fuel in the tank to help inspire a memorable five-wicket Sri Lanka victory over Bangladesh.

On the first day of his 30s, Rajapaksa entered the fray to join Charith Asalanka with Sri Lanka on 79 for four and the required rate soon rose perilously above 10 an over.

It was a task the pair rose to with aplomb, Rajapaksa firing three fours and three sixes during an innings of 53 from 31 balls which swung the momentum back towards his side following the loss of three quick wickets.

The birthday boy appeared to be struggling with a knock towards the end of the run chase and fell just before the job was done but admitted it was nothing more than slight dizziness brought about by a lack of a pre-match meal as he heaped praise on his batting partner.

“It was a fantastic effort,” he said. “The way he [Asalanka] handled the situation and the tempo of the game was unbelievable.

“We’ve been struggling to find a proper number three batter. I’ve batted there myself and it’s not easy as you need to stay with the scoreboard.

“We lost a crucial wicket in the first over so he did a phenomenal job. It was amazing how he kept on scoring.

“He has a bright future for Sri Lanka and I hope he’ll be performing like this throughout the tournament.”

Sri Lanka eased into the Super 12s stage with three victories in Group A and this triumph over a side they have enjoyed several close contests with in recent years will only strengthen their confidence of springing a surprise in the coming weeks.

Rajapaksa was quick to hail the growing self-belief within the squad as a key factor behind their recent form and expects his side to pose plenty of problems to their remaining Group 1 opponents.

“We are a rebuilding side, we are quite young and we have started believing in ourselves – that’s one of the reasons we’ve been winning,” he said.

“We were underdogs before we entered the Super 12s but there are 22 million people hoping we’ll bring the cup back home.

“We have a couple of experienced guys, we have started believing in each other and we believe in all the boys.

“It’s a complete team effort, that’s how we’ve been consistent in all our games. It’s a massive win.”

Meanwhile, Mahumudullah was left to rue the missed opportunities in the field which cost Bangladesh when they were in a promising position.

Mushfiqur Rahim’s eye-catching unbeaten 57 from 37 deliveries, combined with 62 from Mohammad Naim, propelled the Tigers to 171 for seven but their chances of defending their total were dented when Liton Das put down boundary catches off both Rajapaksa and Asalanka.

The return of Shakib Al Hasan, who took two wickets in four balls earlier in the chase, came too late to stem the tide but Mahmudullah had no regrets around his side’s bowling plans.

“It was a really good batting track and both left-handers were set,” he said.

“We held [Shakib’s] bowling back a little bit so he could come back and bowl towards the end, he’s a champion bowler to bowl in the death overs.

“I don’t think it was a bad decision but we missed two crucial chances that cost us the game.

“Sri Lanka are trying to rebuild their structure as a team and playing good, consistent cricket.

“They have been quite successful against us in recent past but these things really motivate us as we feel we are really neck and neck.

“Today they played really well so they came out winning the match.”

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