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Match Analysis

Sri Lanka continue to ace the big chase, somehow

This year, they have won four matches out of seven while chasing, despite a lack of big names in the batting line-up

If this Sri Lanka men's side is going to beat you in a T20I, it's probably while chasing.
We get it. Initially, that sentence doesn't make a lot of sense.
Sri Lanka's best player is Wanindu Hasaranga, whose main suit by far is his bowling. They have Maheesh Theekshana in support - an economical powerplay and middle-overs operator (after 21 bowling innings, his T20I economy rate is 6.56). There are no batters operating on this level, so when oppositions put on big scores, as Bangladesh, and now Afghanistan have in this Asia Cup, you expect Sri Lanka's batting to fold.
But there's something about chasing that gets this team going. This year, when they have chased, they have won four matches out of seven, tying one other (Sri Lanka lost the Super Over in that game against Australia, but that's a different thing). Recently, it is the higher targets that they tend to haul in - 177 against Australia in Pallekele, 184 against Bangladesh in the last game, and 176 on Saturday.
There is no statistical sense to it yet. Sharjah, supposedly, is a low-scoring ground. And yet, in last year's T20 World Cup, Sri Lanka ran down a target of 172 inside 19 overs. That was a ground record at the time, and it was Charith Asalanka who led Sri Lanka to that victory, hitting 80 not out off 49.
On Saturday, when they set a new ground record, chasing 176, Asalanka played the worst innings in the team, scratching his way to 8 off 14. Dasun Shanaka, Sri Lanka's best T20I batter of 2022 (he's hit 188 off seven innings, at a strike rate of 138), made 10 off 9. Only Pathum Nissanka, who specialises in slow-burn innings despite batting in the powerplay, played true to type, hitting 35 off 28.
And still Sri Lanka lurched their way to a victory. Kusal Mendis, who is perhaps the form batter in the team given his domestic runs, top scored with 36 off 19, smoking Rashid Khan for two successive sixes over the legside. Danushka Gunathilaka, who was decidedly out of form, got himself to 33 off 20.
Bhanuka Rajapaksa then came in with 57 needed off 35, and made 31 off 14 - perhaps the definitive innings on Sri Lanka's scorecard. In fact, if there is one player who can claim to hold the key to Sri Lanka's prowess while chasing, it might be him. Since the last T20 World Cup, he's made his runs at a strike rate of 158 when Sri Lanka are chasing.
Although reputed for his hitting against spin, Rajapaksa prospered mainly against the quicks in this game, suggesting now that he's got range. In any case, Sri Lanka seem to want to use him as a floating batter, despite his historic success against spin bowling.
Nobody's numbers are spectacular, though. The top order that played in last year's World Cup, is not the one that is winning matches at the Asia Cup, in that same country, right now.
Nevertheless, these wins can only build belief. And when Sri Lanka go on to play India and Pakistan, they will likely want to chase, and however misguidedly, feel even higher scores are chaseable.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf