Jayawardene and Tharanga script thumping win
A succession of bowling changes within the first eight overs of the chase indicated where the match was heading. Bangladesh, under immense pressure to defend a modest - by this tournament's standards - 250, found themselves at the receiving end of an annihilation by Sri Lanka, who marched into the finals with three wins in three. Mahela Jayawardene and Upul Tharanga compiled centuries with risk-free cricket and the hosts were at the mercy of the conditions again. The decision to advance play by half an hour to protect the bowlers from the dew didn't made an iota of difference.
Tharanga and Jayawardene caressed the ball around, as if the fielders didn't exist. Jayawardene, initially rested for this tournament, was rushed to Bangladesh as an injury cover and he didn't waste much time settling down. He imposed himself with three boundaries in the second over, off Rubel Hossain, flicking and driving through the off side. Shakib Al Hasan, sensing the futility of bowling his seamers in tandem, took them off after the third over.
It made no difference. Shakib himself was taken for consecutive boundaries by Tharanga as soon as he brought himself on, in the fifth over. The same treatment was reserved for Mahmudullah, who was punished by Tharanga in his first over for dropping it short. It was sensible cricket against some very ordinary bowling. The bowlers couldn't grip it properly and fed many deliveries on the pads.
Batting from the crease had never been this easy. The pair complemented each other stroke for stroke, giving room to glide the spinners past the keeper for boundaries to third man. The spinners were almost forced to bowl it flat because of the dew, and that allowed the batsmen enough time to rock back and place their shots in the gaps. A flick down to fine leg brought up Jayawardene's fifty, while Tharanga reached his milestone with a fierce cut off Ashraful past backward point. Tharanga continued to pick the gaps with his eyes shut, taking Rasel for three effortless boundaries in an over. With every punch, flick and cut, the game drifted away from Bangladesh, who had already thrown in the towel.
Shakib didn't opt for the bowling Powerplay in the 11th over because he had no other option but to go on the defensive. By the eighth over, he had used five bowlers, and, by the 14th, he had used seven. They were hurt by the absence of a raw quick bowler to hurry the batsmen with bounce. The bowlers were made to wait for the batsmen to make mistakes but instead, they were made to witness a batting performance close to perfection.
With the target well within reach, it was a question of who would get to a century first. Jayawardene punished the easy short deliveries which Rubel dished out and reached three figures with a cut for four to deep point. Tharanga got to his milestone with a similar shot. Jayawardene had all but taken his team home, when he edged Naeem Islam to the keeper for 104. It was Bangladesh's only success of the evening.
Looking back, the hosts would have wished they batted better. After the top order wasted good starts, the middle order took time to consolidate. They still had wickets in hand to accelerate in the last ten overs, but despite saving the Powerplay almost till the end, couldn't seal the innings with a flourish.
However, the game still had the makings of yet another high-scoring encounter when Tamim Iqbal and Imrul Kayes set off confidently again. But Tamim, Ashraful and Kayes made starts and got out at the wrong time. It was upto the Hasans - Shakib and Raqibul - to consolidate after that. Shakib was trying to play himself into form after two successive failures and was happy to push the singles. There was a boundary drought for 14.1 overs, before Raqibul broke the shackles with a powerful sweep off Malinga Bandara to deep midwicket.
The pair added 77 in nearly 20 overs before a false shot cost Raqibul his wicket. Mushfiqur Rahim certainly impacted the decibel levels in the crowd when he mowed Thilan Samaraweera for two sixes in an over off deep midwicket and heralded the Powerplay with improvised boundaries. But Shakib and Mushfiqur perished while trying to clear the boundaries and with those breakthroughs, Sri Lanka clawed back.
With the field restrictions in place. Mahmudullah was trapped in two minds whether to attack freely or adopt a more cautious approach. The bowlers changed their pace very effectively to strangle the scoring. Sri Lanka tightened their grip by picking up a wicket in each of the five overs, for 32 runs. It was the second-worst performance in the batting Powerplay in ODIs, after Pakistan lost 6 for 41 against India at Centurion in last year's Champions Trophy. Bangladesh ended with a total which, by the end of the game, seemed a 100 short.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo