Mohammed Siraj, Asia Cup 2023, Indian cricket team
Mohammed Siraj signed off with six for 21 including four in an over in the Asia Cup final. Photo: BCCI

Asia Cup final review: How sensational Siraj reduced 50-over match to 50-run no-contest

Siraj had had a quiet Asia Cup, but the Hyderabadi lifted himself up at the most opportune moment. From his very first delivery, it was clear that he was in exceptional rhythm.

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The build-up had pinned this as David versus Goliath, a side occupying a lowly eighth position in the ICC ODI rankings against the No. 3 side in the world. The momentum was with the lower-ranked team, playing on its home patch, its morale sky-high after a last-ball win in a virtual semifinal against a team ranked even higher than their opponents in the final.

Sri Lanka had so much going for them, not least the full-throated backing of a packed gathering at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo, but in half an hour, the Asia Cup final devolved into a no-contest. Shell-shocked and stunned into deathly silence, the 35,000 people at the venue could scarcely believe the carnage unfolding in front of them. India’s pace attack, expertly spearheaded on Sunday (September 17) by Mohammed Siraj, gave Sri Lanka a chastening reminder of the gulf in class between the sides, reducing a 50-over match to a 50-run encounter.

50 all out

Fifty. That’s a number which will haunt Sri Lanka for a long, long time. That’s what they managed, after batting by choice, 50 their lowest total on home soil by a distance, their lowest against India in any format, their second least tally in a One-Day International.

The final of the Asia Cup began 40 minutes late, but it only lasted two hours and 21.3 overs; it was a terribly humbling defeat for the hosts, undone by the quality of Siraj, by the generous assistance from the surface for India’s gun fast-bowling group, from their own inadequacies when it came to patience and temperament, application and commitment.

The logic behind batting first and putting runs on the board could hardly be faulted. Batting second under lights, and especially in the first 15 overs, has been a hazardous proposition at the Premadasa. Sri Lanka’s designs revolved around stitching a competitive total, then using the helpful conditions and their competent bowling attack to choke the Indians. The conception was perfect, the execution horribly awry and askew.

Rohit Sharma admitted he had been taken aback by the amount kind of help his faster bowlers received. The track was dry, and the consensus was that spin would play a big part as the match unravelled; as it turned out, it was the faster men who did all the damage, who picked up all ten wickets, Siraj the undisputed hero and Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya excellent support acts.

“When there is help from the surface, it takes a special skillset to take wickets and not get carried away,” Rohit pointed out afterwards. “Siraj was so good today. Watching from the slips, watching the way he operated, it was phenomenal. The same player can’t be the hero every day; today, our hero was Siraj.”

Siraj's impeccable lengths

Siraj has been India’s most potent Powerplay bowler in the last couple of years, his mastery of the new ball a wonderful asset for Rohit to possess. Much of that time has been spent without Bumrah, whose back injury had kept him off the park for long stretches. Siraj effortlessly slipped into the role of the lead paceman, using conventional swing, pace, bounce and the scrambled seam to devastating effect.

He had had a quiet Asia Cup, but the Hyderabadi lifted himself up at the most opportune moment. From his very first delivery, it was clear that he was in exceptional rhythm. His lengths were impeccable as he drew the Lankan batsmen forward, luring them into drives that eluded their bat when the ball swung away late, and appreciably. Four times in his first over, he went past the outside edge of Pathum Nissanka. He might have felt then that this would be one of those afternoons – well bowled, bad luck.

The tide changed with the first delivery of his second over, Nissanka’s misery ending when he reached out to a widish delivery and brought Ravindra Jadeja into play at point. It catalysed a manic passage of play when a wicket looked imminent every ball, and three more actually fell in the next five deliveries. Siraj’s second over, the fourth of the no-contest, was surreal; Sadeera Samarawickrama was trapped in front, Charith Asalanka played loosely to be caught at cover-point and Dhananjaya de Silva drove distantly to be nicked off.

Four wickets, four runs, in the fourth over. To round off the symmetry, Siraj became the fourth bowler, after Chaminda Vaas, Mohammed Sami and Adil Rashid, to take four wickets in an over in the last two decades. It was as if Siraj was living out a dream, Sri Lanka were in the middle of a nightmare, much of it of their own making.

5 wickets in 16 balls

The difference in desperation was best exemplified by the said fourth over. Siraj’s first ball to Dhananjaya – the hat-trick ball, after Samarawickrama and Asalanka had perished off successive deliveries – was full, on the batsman’s pads. Rohit had four slips, a leg-gully, no mid-on. As the batsman drove through that vacant region, Siraj whirled around on his followthrough and started chasing the ball. Full tilt. He didn’t stop the four, but it showed how switched on he was, how badly he wanted success. Sri Lanka could have, should have, taken a leaf out of his book.

In his third over, Siraj produced a beauty to castle Dasun Shanaka. He had taken 16 deliveries for his five wickets, equalling the joint fewest balls taken by a bowler – Vaas – in ODIs. It was destructive annihilation.

Siraj signed off with six for 21 – ‘I wanted to give him another over but I got a message from the trainers assaying seven overs was good enough,’ Rohit said later – and sent the Lankans packing in 15.2 overs. Siraj himself had wanted an eighth over, which potentially would have given him the best figures by an Indian in ODIs; Stuart Binny is the current holder of that record, with six for four against Bangladesh in 2014. Stuart’s father Roger, the BCCI president, was watching the final from the SLC President’s Box and it would have been a nice touch had the record changed hands in front of the World Cup winner, but that wasn’t to be.

Shubman Gill and the promoted Ishan Kishan needed just 37 balls to hunt down 51 deliveries and muscle India to their eighth Asia Cup triumph. Two hours after the winning run was brought up, the skies opened up with a vengeance; Sri Lanka would watch the rain from their hotel rooms and rue their profligacy. As for Siraj, well…

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