Number five is not the easiest position to bat in ODI cricket and few have succeeded in this role. Arjuna Ranatunga, Mahela Jayawardene and Angelo Mathews are examples of this. Sometimes, as the seniority of the player goes up, they also move up the order and absorb the lion's share of 50 overs of the innings. However, despite his elevation as vice-captain, Asalanka has remained at number five and has done a fantastic job for the team.
In the second ODI against Afghanistan at Pallekele on Sunday, Asalanka played a match-winning role by posting an unbeaten 97 and enabling the team to post a total of 308. Afghanistan could score only 153 runs and lost the match by 155 runs while Sri Lanka took a lead of 155 runs. unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series.
In his short career so far, we've seen Asalanka take all the pressure in chases and script some famous wins. But on Sunday he showed another aspect of his game by putting up a total. His shot selection, decision-making and cleverness were all on display and he is proving to be a vital cog in the team. Not long before that, one can be sure that Asalanka will take a place in the top ten of the official ICC. Rankings.
After the World Cup flop, it was a crucial win for Sri Lanka. Afghanistan were a team on the rise after their World Cup heroics, beating three former champions England, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. They finished the competition sixth and qualified for the Champions Trophy, while Sri Lanka finished a disappointing ninth place and were eliminated from the Champions Trophy.
“Very happy with the attempt to end the series with a win and still have a game to spare. It is not done yet. Ideally, we would like to complete a 3-0 sweep,” Asalanka told reporters at the post-match media briefing.
“Number five is a pressure position. Sometimes you have to start with the score at ten to three or with the score at 200 to three. I've played more than 50 games and I've gotten a lot of input from the coaches on how to approach things. I am satisfied with the way I did,” Asalanka continued.
Sri Lanka was notorious for batting collapse, as seen in the World Cup and the Asian Cup before that. But on Sunday, at 147 for four with 21 overs left in the innings, Asalanka addressed the problem.
“Although Kusal and Sadeera were dismissed in quick succession, they had maintained a good run rate. The plan was to hit until the 40th. Janith Liyanage took the pressure off me and we were able to play ball and thanks to that collaboration we reached 300.”
Asalanka was left stranded on 97 and missed his fourth century. He was on 96 facing the penultimate ball of the innings and could only manage one single, leaving fellow Richmond College player Wanindu Hasaranga with the last ball.
'I had the century in mind. I thought the ball was going to the hole and wanted to get two runs. Wanindu wanted me to play the last ball, but I heard that call late. We were attacking at the time and we were looking at 320. When we were running back we were talking about being about ten runs short.”
The pitches in Pallekele are tailor-made for batting, with Sri Lanka scoring over 300 runs in both matches. Sri Lanka had a habit of preparing rank turners for home matches in an attempt to win matches, but their weaknesses were exposed when they went to events like the World Cup where you usually get batsman-friendly tracks.
“After the World Cup we talked a lot about fields. Wickets we played at home last year, we couldn't post totals above 300. But since the World Cup we have had good wickets. If we are going to get flat wickets for ICC events, we have to play on flat wickets at home too. Our bowlers also learn the art of bowling and controlling edges on good wickets.
In the second ODI, Afghanistan were in the hunt and the chase went well with Rahmat Shah and Ibrahim Zadran posting half-centuries. But shortly after the two experienced batters were dismissed, a sensational collapse occurred
“The collaboration between Rahmat and Ibrahim was a bit of a headache. I was talking to Kusal Mendis and we expected a close game. We wanted to keep our best bowlers towards the end. We wanted to leave them with around 100 runs in the last ten overs. Once the point ball pressure came, they cracked under pressure. Wanindu was great today and so were the seams that created that pressure.”
Asalanka was at the non-strikers' end as Pathum Nissanka became the first Sri Lankan to score a double hundred in the first ODI. He celebrated the moment by lifting his demure colleague.
“I really enjoy watching Pathum bat. Absolutely fantastic knock. I have really enjoyed it. No one had scored a double hundred before. I'm glad I was in the middle of it when that happened.”
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