“We always wanted to show the world – a couple of decades back, we had aggression in our side, and we wanted to create those moments [again] as a unit,” Rajapaksa said after the win. “Looking forward, we want to keep up this momentum ahead of the World Cup. With the crisis happening back home, this is a tough time for all the Sri Lankans, but hope we brought some smiles on the faces of our people. This is to the whole nation; they were waiting for this for so long.”
“After that first loss, we had a serious discussion.” Shanaka revealed. “We knew we had the talent, but it was about applying those in game scenarios and all the players stood up. It’s the environment we created as a team and coaching staff that has paid off.”
While at it, Shanaka also gave a message back to the fans. It seemed more like a plea. “Believe in our cricketers,” he said. “A lot of bad things are going around. As cricketers, they too should enjoy their lives as well, not spreading bad things. They have private lives too. Keep believing, that is the key. As a captain, I give confidence to the players, [whatever] I can. I can’t ask more than that.”
At one point, even as the wicketkeeper and several fielders ran to Madushanka with suggestions, it needed a polite hand gesture from Shanaka and some words for the players to disperse and allow the nervous bowler some breathing space. He held his composure thereafter to concede just three more in the over.
If it wasn’t for injuries to Kasun Rajitha and Dushmantha Chameera, it’s possible this unlikely pairing may not have shared the new ball; perhaps they may not even played at all.
“Madushan brings promise, skill and maturity,” Shanaka said. “We knew him from the start of his domestic career, but we had to take a risk to get the rewards. Madushan’s skills were there [to see] and he’s got a good career ahead. Glad he delivered in just his second game; glad he rewarded us for the risk we have taken [in picking him].”
Shanaka was confident the the win has the ability to be the stepping stone for greater things. For starters, he wasn’t fussed about playing the opening round of the T20 World Cup despite being Asian champions. Secondly, he was hopeful that this could be the turnaround that Sri Lanka cricket, which has seemingly been in a transition phase for a long time now, has been looking for.
“Even two-three years back, the team used to play good cricket, but the winning factor wasn’t there,” he said. “This could be the turnaround in our cricket, this lot can continue to play for five-six years, which is a very good sign as well.”
Shanaka’s humility came through when he was asked about his thoughts on Sri Lanka being unlikely winners, and how all talk had been about the Asia Cup being a mini-India-Pakistan series.
“It’s not like that,” he said with a smile. “When it comes to India-Pakistan, we know it’s a different game. Our cricketing history is also good, so we didn’t have anything to prove about us being a good team. The only thing is we weren’t probably ranked high enough, but with this team, we can do better and become that high-ranking team [we aspire to be].”
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo