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'Just relax. Calm and cool' - How Sri Lanka turned the tables on Pakistan

Chamari Athapaththu explains how her side defended 12 runs off the last two overs to make the women's Asia Cup final

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Inoka Ranaweera began with a wicket-maiden, Pakistan vs Sri Lanka, 2nd semi-final, Women's T20 Asia Cup, Sylhet, October 13, 2022

Chamari Athapaththu: Inoka bowled really well in the 19th over  •  Asian Cricket Council

Nida Dar goes down on her haunches after getting run-out off the last ball. The Sri Lanka players are running towards each other from all directions, arms aloft, screaming loud, smiling. The big screen at the Sylhet International Stadium flashes the result. Those in the stands are open-mouthed. Some have their hands on their head. Whether it happens in front of a few hundred people, or millions, there's something unpretentious about last-ball finishes.
Particularly when the contest was so tilted against the winners even just 15 minutes previously. The first ray of hope for Sri Lanka came when Sugandika Kumari removed Bismah Maroof in the 18th over. She was in two minds and missed the ball. Bowled for 42. Inoka Ranaweera was magnificent in the 19th over, picking up another wicket. Pakistan needed nine off the last six balls. And up stepped Achini Kulasuriya, slinging yorker after yorker until she made history.
After the match, Sri Lanka's Chamari Athapaththu was beaming, with her deputy Oshadi Ranasinghe in tow, at the press conference. A little while before, Aliya Riaz had expressed just how sad it was to be in the Pakistan dressing room at that point. They were almost there, in the Women's Asia Cup final, only to be denied off the last ball.
Athapaththu said that Kulasuriya followed her directions word for word. It was all about denying the batters Riaz and Dar the room they needed to hit the ball over the 25-yard circle, which became doubly important because, at that moment, Sri Lanka were also dealing with an over-rate penalty. They could have only three fielders (one less than the usual four in women's cricket) outside the circle in the last over.
"After 14 years, we are in the final of the Asia Cup," Athapaththu said. "So it's really good for us as a team, as a nation. We are really excited today. And I'm very happy about my team's performance today. All players doing really well today.
"We planned a few things yesterday. We know Nida is a hard-hitter of Pakistan. Achini Kulasuriya is a really good, experienced bowler in our bowling line-up. I always trust her, and I know she can do it."
Riaz, who was at the non-striker's end when Pakistan needed three off the last ball, said that since it was hard to find boundaries, they might as well have tried for the two needed to take the game into the Super Over.
"I and Nida talked that if the boundary did not come, we would go for two runs," Riaz said. "Unfortunately, it didn't happen. [Kulasuriya] bowled well, she bowled yorkers. On the last delivery, Nida tried to put it over extra cover but unfortunately, she could not connect well enough."
Sri Lanka reacted impressively to take the lifeline they had earned thanks to Maroof's wicket and it was all down to their captain urging the players to stay relaxed.
"I just told my team to stick with our plans," Athapaththu said. "We did not want to do more things. Just relax, calm and cool, do our things. They do whatever they wanted to do, but we want to stick with our plans.
"Inoka bowled really well in that [19th] over. I have two good spinners and two good senior players especially vice-captain Oshadi and Inoka. If I have to take a decision, they advise me about taking them.
"All things happen from hard work. In the last year, we struggled as a men's team, a women's team, and a country. But now we are happy because the men's team won the Asia Cup and we will try to do our best in the final."
Riaz said that Pakistan had a good tournament but it would have been better had they made it to the final to face India. "Of course, it's very disappointing. Everyone is sad. Everyone is very emotional and it's very hard for everyone.
"The whole tournament was very good for us. We collapsed against Thailand but we came back strong against India. After that, we carried the momentum. But then, today… It was a very great chance for us to reach the final. All batters and bowlers are in good shape."

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84