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Sri Lanka lay foundations for another golden era

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There is something about Sri Lanka and the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup.

There is something about Sri Lanka and the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup.

Whatever the interim years hold in terms of injuries, retirements and results, they have a time-honoured knack of pulling it together on the biggest stage of them all.

After all, no team has played more and won more in the tournament’s history, and their 39th game and 26th win pointed the way to another dominant epoch in the country’s cricket.

Sri Lanka have found batting in the powerplay tough in recent times, particularly in their three-match T20I tour of England, struggling to find a partner for the nuggety Kusal Perera.

Now, they have their man - Pathum Nissaka, who is no muscle-wrapped pinch-hitter but a canny manipulator of fields who comes for you quietly. In short, a bowler’s nightmare.

Head coach Mickey Arthur waxes lyrical: “I’ve watched every cricketer now in Sri Lanka, but I don’t see batting talent like Pathum Nissanka.

“I’ve always said since the first time I saw Pathum that he’s a wonderful talent. His balance, his feet movement, when he attacks and defends are great. He’s got it all.”

Nissanka found a perfect balance here, unruffled by the loss of Perera in the final over of the powerplay, going on to build a superb stand of 91 with Charith Asalanka.

His two standout shots were marked by breathtaking use of the crease. The first, when he rocked back in his crease to reverse sweep Akeal Hosein for a one-bounce four.

The second saw him shuffle well outside his off-stump and flick Ravi Rampaul with elastic wrists to the square leg boundary.

His superb 72 to set up the game against South Africa was another defining innings, but this one surely gave him more satisfaction as it came in a morale-boosting 20-run victory.

Watching the innings it was easy to forget he has played only 36 T20 matches and isn’t out of double figures at international level.

Neither is Asalanka, with whom he repeatedly traded boundaries in a thrilling 61-ball stand. He has played 39 T20 matches, all in his home country, and nine T20Is.

There was a biting contrast in their collaboration, compared to the one shared by Nicholas Pooran and Shimron Hetmyer for the fourth Windies wicket.

Pooran cut loose almost from the moment he got to the crease, contributing 18 off 19 balls, whereas Hetmyer couldn’t get going, managing nine from his first 15.

That led to Pooran overcompensating and finding long-off from an innocuous off-stump ball from Dushmantha Chameera, a hammer blow to his side’s hopes of chasing 190.

Asalanka and Nissanka, however, both hit boundaries in the seventh and 13th overs, disrupting Hossein and Andre Russell with their awkward styles.

Asalanka spoke after his 80 from 49 balls against West Indies of the power of being given the freedom to play his natural game and he was great to watch in Abu Dhabi.

He scored heavily behind square with flicks, cuts and deflections and bore his teeth in sweeping Dwayne Bravo for six and crashing him through the covers early on.

Aged 30, Bhanuka Rajapaksa has a different tale to tell but is another forming a new batting core for Arthur, Mahela Jayawardene and all associated with this team to build on.

The fulcrum of the team is 24-year-old Wanindu Hasaranga, who only broke into the side in 2019, a two-way threat whose googly is a mighty weapon. He looks a generational talent.

They also have pace to burn in the shape of Chameera, who struggled in this game, and Lahiru Kumara, left out this time.

Who knows quite what the next year holds for Sri Lanka. But with a quick turnaround and the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup returning in a year’s time in Australia, you can be sure they’ll be ready.

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