Sadeera Samarawickrama and Charith Asalanka made resolute fifties after Matheesha Pathirana’s hostile bowling as Sri Lanka slayed Bangladesh by five wickets in their Asia Cup opener in Pallekele on Thursday. Pacer Pathirana’s 4 for 32 restricted Bangladesh to 164. The home side then rode on Samarawickrama’s 54 off 77 balls and Asalanka’s unbeaten 62 off 92 balls to overhaul the target in 39 overs. Samarawickrama is going through a career rejuvenation this year after fading from the scene.
He earned a recall to the Lanka Test side after five years against Ireland this July, and he also made a return to their ODI unit after a gap of four years during the home series against Afghanistan in June.
Samarawickrama made his Test return count with a hundred in the second match against Ireland. On Thursday, his fifty was the cornerstone of Lanka’s crucial win over Bangladesh.
But Lanka had to overcome a few uncomfortable moments before that.
Bangladesh bowlers had reduced Sri Lanka to 43 for three in 9.2 overs, dragging their side back into the match after their batsmen’s shoddy effort.
In Lankan cricketing circles, Samarawickrama has always been known as a stylish batsman.
Even on a slowing down pitch, the right-hander produced some sparkling shots using a wafer-thin bat and supple wrists.
His ability to find gaps around the field was visible when he drove pacer Shoriful Islam through covers with disdain for four, and later flicked left-arm spinner Shakib Al Hasan through mid-wicket for a boundary.
Samarawickrama had an equally composed partner in Asalanka as they produced 78 crucial runs for the fourth wicket.
The left-handed Asalanka, who has been in fine fettle this year in ODIs, was never hesitant to take the odd risks for a boundary, and it helped Samarawickrama to bat assuredly at the other end.
But off-spinner Mahedi Hasan snapped the partnership.
Hasan had Samarawickrama stumped by Mushfiqur Rahim with a tossed-up delivery that beat the batter.
Bangladesh did get a couple of quick wickets, but they just did not have enough runs on the board to defend.
For that, Sri Lanka should thank their bowlers who worked around a resilient fifty by Najmul Shanto, who made 89 off 122 balls with seven fours.
However, other batsmen did not pick up any hint from Shanto as Pathirana and spinner Maheesh Theekshana (2/19) combined to strike at regular intervals after Bangladesh opted to bat first.
The Pallekele International Cricket Stadium pitch had a bit of carry and bounce in it, and Lanka skipper Dasun Shanaka brought Theekshana into attack in the second over itself.
Theekshana, the highest wicket-taker for Sri Lanka in ODIs this year, fetched an immediate breakthrough as he trapped Tanzid Hasan plumb in front with a lovely delivery.
The ball pitched around the leg-stump and spun across to hit Hasan’s back pad and the Bangladesh opener had to walk back with a duck on his debut.
Pathirana soon jettisoned skipper Shakib Al Hasan. The left-hander could not negotiate the extra pace of Pathirana, and the ball nestled in the hands of stumper Kusal Mendis.
Bangladesh were 36 for three at this stage and they needed a couple of partnerships to steady things in the middle.
The fourth wicket alliance between Shanto and Towhid Hridoy (20) saw Bangladesh adding 59 runs in nearly 14 overs.
Shanto guided his young partner well as Bangladesh showed signs of recovery.
However, Lanka captain Shanaka ended the blooming alliance while winning a leg-before appeal against Hridoy.
Pathirana returned to end the stay of veteran Mushfiqur Rahim, whose attempted upper cut was snaffled by Chamika Karunaratne near third man.
With the cream of their batting returned to the pavilion, Shanto was Bangladesh’s remaining hope to reach a competitive total.
The left-hander, who is one of Bangladesh’s better ODI batsmen this year, batted with caution without sacrificing chances to find boundaries.
His on-drive off pacer Kasun Rajitha was a fine piece of timing and cover.
However, Theekshana ended Shanto’s tenure at the crease.
Both Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will now travel to Pakistan to face Afghanistan in their respective group matches.