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How the Hasaranga-Rajapaksa stand snatched the momentum from Pakistan

Where Rajapaksa was orthodox and calculative, Hasaranga brought out streaks of daredevilry to his batting

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Momentum is an underrated facet in sport. Building it can be slow burn, but it can slip away in a jiffy, like Pakistan found out the hard way on Sunday in the Asia Cup final. At 58 for 5, they had Sri Lanka on the mat. Whatever could go right had gone right until then for Pakistan. But when teams begin to deviate from the very formula that has brought them until that point, there's often a small window of opportunity for the opponent.
It's this opportunity Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Wanindu Hasaranga used to break open the door for a stunning assault. Their partnership - 58 off 36 - transferred the momentum even before Pakistan had realised. Pakistan's twin dropped chances in the death only made it worse for Pakistan. By then, it seemed as if they were running on fumes.
Where Rajapaksa was orthodox and calculative, Hasaranga brought out streaks of daredevilry to his batting. Where Rajapaksa was in form, Hasaranga was in his zone. From the visceral pace and prodigious movement of Naseem Shah that had reduced batting to a survival game, Rajapaksa and Hasaranga had turned batting into a carnival like they would on a lazy beach day. Momentum couldn't have swung away from Pakistan faster.
Rajapaksa's confidence stemmed from his recent batting form all tournament. In the previous game, also against Pakistan, he had scored 24 off 19 with two sixes in a low-key chase. Only a ball prior to his arrival on Sunday, Haris Rauf had sent Danushka Gunathilaka's middle and off stump on a cartwheel with a 151kph delivery. Three balls in, Rajapaksa got a taste of this pure pace when he was struck flush on his toe.
Completely off balance in trying to make a mad scramble to protect his toes from a pinpoint yorker, he copped a stinging blow that returned not out through DRS by the barest of margins. As a batter, when you have such pace to combat, it can be unsettling at the best of times. This was a grand final with the cream of Sri Lanka's batting back in the pavilion. It was now or never. Rajapaksa decided to take the bowling on.
One of his strengths is to access areas behind square on either side, and so when he couldn't benefit from that extra pace to score in front, he was trying to open up areas behind it. Slogs or heaves that had been commonplace in Sri Lanka's innings until then gave way to delicate dabs and lofted strokes with the turn.
At the other end, Hasaranga had decided he was going down in a blaze of glory, and not just fight for survival. At one point, he even exposed all three stumps, giving Mohammad Hasnain a clear view of the base he had to aim at. Hasaranga was giving away his intention early. Except, he had the kind of hand-eye coordination batters dream of.
And so, from nearly having all his momentum running with him towards square leg, he quickly got into his original stance and then opened his wrists to slap deliveries behind square or drill low full tosses through extra cover. During their partnership, it was as if Rajapaksa had given a free license to Hasaranga, fully knowing the impact he is known to make. And Hasaranga didn't disappoint.
Rajapaksa's batting is a lot about confidence and mindset. He can be languid one moment, driving balls on the up without a face of worry. He can be casual and absolutely undeterred by incoming thunderbolts, opening bat faces to dab the ball or walk across - like he did in that final over off Naseem Shah - and use the pace to scoop the ball over the wicketkeeper.
It's like he's got a mental switch that he can flick on and flick off from time to time, when he needs to. But the essence of his game is to always be on the lookout for unsettling bowlers, throwing them off their lengths and getting them to immediately switch to a Plan B. As bowlers, if you have a second option, there's hope. If you're caught off guard, Rajapaksa is good enough to cash in.
This is why he can thrill and frustrate Sri Lanka. He has all the shots in the book, yet because he hasn't been able to fully realise this potential, there are moments where he'll have you tear your hair out in frustration. Ask Mickey Arthur, the former Sri Lanka coach, who has seen the good and the not-so-good over the past couple of years.
But Rajapaksa is slowly beginning to realise the merits of trying to stay true to one's game. On Sunday, he did all this and much more with an injured right shoulder as he later revealed. Every time he tried to have a swing, he would clutch his right shoulder and forearm in pain. It was as if the apparent limitation had forced him to reinvent his game. One that accidentally may have powered Sri Lanka to a win for the ages.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo