Sri Lanka's Asia Cup hero Bhanuka Rajapaksa targets T20 World Cup success

Batsman says momentum gained in winning in UAE could fuel title tilt in Australia next month

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Bhanuka Rajapaksa says Sri Lanka’s shock Asia Cup success in Dubai can help fuel a title tilt at the T20 World Cup in Australia next month.

Sri Lanka cast aside years of on-field failure, corruption scandals, and stress away from sport, as they claimed a sixth Asia Cup title on Sunday night.

Rajapaksa played the vital innings as they bounced back from 58 for five to post 170 for six from their 20 overs.

Pakistan then fell 23 runs short as they were routed by Sri Lanka’s bowlers in front of a pulsating crowd at Dubai International Stadium.

As a marker of how far Sri Lanka had slipped in the game, they will have to play the preliminary qualifying round at the T20 World Cup.

That will involve matches against UAE, Namibia and the Netherlands in Geelong.

Rajapaksa is confident they can navigate that obstacle, and thinks it could even benefit Sri Lanka in the long run.

“It is all about momentum,” Rajapaksa said.

“Taking this ahead to the World Cup, we have three qualifying games to assess the conditions. That will be a great platform for us.

“I think this momentum will really help us compete well and probably clinch a title in the World Cup as well.”

Sri Lanka's Bhanuka Rajapaksa celebrates after scoring a half-century during the Asia Cup final. AFP

While Sunday’s trophy win confirmed the resurgence of Sri Lanka as force in the game, it was also retribution for their new coach, Chris Silverwood.

The former fast bowler was sacked by England at the start of this year after an extended run of poor form. In his absence, he has seen Brendon McCullum entirely transform English Test cricket.

However, Silverwood, too, has now tasted great success, after overseeing a first Asia Cup title for his new team since 2014.

“The coach has always been a good motivator for us,” Rakapaksa said.

“All he wanted was for us to play aggressive cricket. When the stakes were down and we were 60-odd for five wickets in 10 overs, when Wanindu [Hasaranga] and myself were batting, he just wanted us to take some time and do the job we know how to do.

“We don’t want to change any person’s character, and we have been given the freedom to play as we wish.

“That really helps us as a team and as a young unit to come and win games like this.”

Silverwood praised his players for sticking to their gameplan and maintaining belief to take the title.

“The great thing is everyone has put their hands up [to contribute] at some point,” Silverwood said.

“I always had confidence the talent was there within the team. We just wanted to give them a method, and that is exactly what we have done.

“We have put some plans in place, they have worked very hard, and it is starting to show now. I think we can go from strength to strength.”

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Updated: September 12, 2022, 7:30 AM
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