DHAKA: Opener Lahiru Thirimanne hit a magnificent century to help Sri Lanka thump defending champions Pakistan by five wickets to regain the Asia Cup title in Dhaka on Saturday.
The left-hander notched 101 for his third one-day hundred to anchor Sri Lanka’s successful chase of a 261-run target in 46.2 overs for his country’s fifth Asia Cup title at Dhaka’s Shere Bangla stadium.
Thirimanne, who also scored a hundred in the tournament’s opening match against the same opponents, hit 13 boundaries during his 108-ball knock and steadied the chase during a solid 156-run third-wicket partnership with veteran team-mate Mahela Jayawardene, who made 75.
Pakistan’s main spin weapon Saeed Ajmal had broken through after Sri Lanka’s confident start of 56, dismissing Kusal Perera (42) and dangerman Kumar Sangakkara (nought) off successive deliveries.
Jayawardene, who had a poor run of scores with 13, nine, 14 and nought in the tournament, benefitted when wicket-keeper Umar Akmal dropped a regulation catch off Shahid Afridi.
Jayawardene, then 36, hit nine boundaries and a six before he holed out off paceman Mohammad Talha.
Sri Lanka also lost Ashan Prinyanjan (13) to Junaid Khan and Thirimanne to Ajmal but skipper Angelo Mathews (16 not out) hit the winning runs.
Thirimanne, who reached his hundred with a single off Khan, was finally bowled by Ajmal who finished with 3-26.
Sri Lanka had also won the Asia Cup in 1986, 1997, 2004 and 2008.
“We wanted to break the barrier between us and finals,” said Mathews of Sri Lanka’s failure to win the World Cup finals of 2007 and 2011 and the Twenty20 finals of 2009 and 2012.
“The credit goes to the whole team. It was a very good run chase and big victory not only for me but for the whole team,” said Mathews whose team won all the five matches in the event.
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul Haq blamed defeat on his side’s loss of early wickets. “I think losing the first three wickets quickly put us under pressure and although we managed to reach 260, it was some 20-30 short,” said Misbah.
Pakistan, who decided to bat after winning the toss, were helped to 260-5 by a brilliant unbeaten 114 by Fawad Alam and a solid 65 by Misbah.
Pakistan on back foot
Alam’s knock helped Pakistan recover from early devastation caused by paceman Lasith Malinga, who took the first three wickets to force Pakistan on to the back foot, before he finished with 5-56.
Alam added an invaluable 122 for the fourth wicket with Misbah and then another 115 for the fifth wicket with Umar Akmal who made a 42-ball 59.
Alam, who returned to the team with a brilliant 74 against Bangladesh on Tuesday after a four-year absence, hit eight boundaries and three sixes off 134 balls.
Alam became the first left-handed Pakistan batsman, other than openers, to hit a one-day century. He hit paceman Thisara Perera over long-on for a six to reach his century off 126 balls.
Akmal hit seven boundaries to give impetus to the innings as Pakistan scored 101 in the last ten overs.
Earlier, Malinga rocked the innings with the wickets of Sharjeel Khan (eight), Ahmed Shehzad (five) and Mohammad Hafeez (three) in his incisive four-over spell, pushing Pakistan to 18-3 by the fifth over.
Misbah and Alam played steadily during their 122-run partnership and were lucky to survive some close chances.
Misbah was ruled not out on 19 by Australian umpire Bruce Oxenford when action replays suggested he edged Mathews to wicket-keeper Sangakkara.
Misbah hit three boundaries and two sixes during his solid 98-ball knock before Malinga returned for his second spell and had the Pakistan captain caught in the deep.
Five-times champions India, hosts Bangladesh and Afghanistan were the other teams in the competition.