171/7 was Sri Lanka’s joint-highest score since they hit 182 against Pakistan in 2019, 21 matches ago. They also scored 171 against West Indies in March 2020.
It was not without a scare against an upbeat Ireland, who arrived full of swagger after they ran through Netherlands for the concession of just 106 runs in their opening game, thanks in large part to four wickets in four balls from Curtis Campher.
Opener Kusal Perera lasted just two balls before he was outfoxed by off-spinner Paul Stirling and looped one up to Gareth Delany at cover, while Dinesh Chandimal and Avishka Fernando also fell early, leaving Sri Lanka on eight for three after just ten balls to raise more questions about their top order.
Sri Lanka needed a solution and they made a bold strategic call by moving all-rounder Wanindu Hasaranga up to No.5 to partner surviving opener Pathum Nissanka – and it could hardly have worked out better.
Hasaranga had only scored 200 runs in 22 previous T20I innings but his ability to hit it a long way and transform an innings, which is exactly what he did, has long been known.
He showed off his ability with a punched four through the covers and then terrorised Simi Singh by whacking four successive balls to the boundary to change the mood at the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium.
With a read of the wicket, the 24-year-old began to relax and his massive six over long on backed up his claim after that match that he sees himself as a batting all-rounder.
Considering he already has 39 wickets from 27 T20I matches and entered the tournament second in the MRF Tyres Men’s T20I Bowling Rankings, that is some statement and hints at his potential.
Several more boundaries followed as Hasaranga not only beat his previous T20I best of 44 but obliterated it. He was eventually dismissed for 71 off 47 balls, including 11 boundaries.
“When I got to the crease, we were eight for three but I rotated the first few balls, then I accelerated,” he said. As Ireland’s bowlers will testify, he left them for dust.
It appears Sri Lanka might have found a new batting star but captain Dasun Shanaka suggested the move to promote Hasaranga has been in the pipeline for some time.
“Of course it was a concern at eight for three, but they put on an awesome partnership. Hasaranga at five is a plan we had coming in at the World Cup and it worked well for us.”
Sri Lanka team sources told NewsWire that the decision to send Hasaranga was a suggestion by team consultant Mahela Jayawardena.
Jayawardena had suggested to use Hasaranga as a floater during the tournament who will bat at 4 to 7 positions according to the situation.
Hasaranga was not the only Sri Lankan batter to deliver and credit must also go to opener Nissanka, who set a new T20I best with a measured 47-ball 61.
He allowed Hasaranga to be the aggressor but delivered several telling blows of his own, while captain Shanaka found his range with an unbeaten 21 from 11 balls.
Sri Lanka’s talent with the ball has long been known and Shanaka was again quick to highlight his seamers.
But this was glimpse into what might be possible if both bat and ball click and the teams waiting in the Super 12s will have taken note. (WithinputsfromICC)