Shanaka dedicates Asia Cup win to crisis-hit Sri Lanka
Skipper Dasun Shanaka on Sunday called the Asia Cup triumph a "real turnaround" for Sri Lankan cricket ahead of the T20 World Cup and dedicated the win to the crisis-hit nation.
Sri Lanka defeated Pakistan by 23 runs in the final with Bhanuka Rajapaksa hitting an unbeaten 71 and Wanindu Hasaranga starring with bat and ball in Dubai.
The win was nothing short of a fairytale ending for a team which started the tournament, a precursor to the World Cup starting next month in Australia, with an embarrassing loss against Afghanistan.
But Shanaka's men bounced back with five successive wins, taking down tournament favourites India in a Super Four contest and then twice getting past Pakistan with ease.
"The players have been playing good cricket for two, three years but the winning factor was not there," Shanaka said after Sri Lanka's sixth Asia Cup title.
"This will be a real good turnaround in our cricket. This lot (of players) will continue for another five, six years, so that will be a very good sign for us."
The island nation has suffered months of economic crisis and political unrest with blackouts, fuel shortages and protests becoming part of their lives.
The Sri Lankan fans present at the Dubai International Stadium celebrated the win with drums and songs as the team took a victory lap of the ground with the trophy.
"They were waiting for it for so long, especially the final," Shanaka told reporters. "We should dedicate this win to the whole nation."
The Asian champions though will have to go through the qualifying stage for a chance of meeting the heavyweights in the main draw of the T20 World Cup which starts October 22.
But Shanaka believes the qualifiers will help them acclimatise to Australia and the momentum is already with them.
"We played the qualifiers last year as well. We have the same set-up for the last three, four years and last two years have been good for us," said Shanaka.
"The momentum is there and winning the Asia Cup really helps going ahead to the World Cup. Qualifiers will really help because we will play in the conditions before the main tournament happens, so it will be good for us."
Coach Chris Silverwood, appointed in April to lead Sri Lanka having overseen England's Ashes humiliation in Australia, has been credited for the team's new-found confidence.
The Englishman was seen having a chat with Rajapaksa and Hasaranga, who made 36 and then took 3-27 with his leg-spin, during a key 58-run stand between the two batsmen that lifted Sri Lanka from a precarious 58-5 to 170-6.
"He has always been a good motivator for us and always wants us to play aggressive cricket," said Rajapaksa.
"We have been given the freedom to play as we wish. And that really helps us as a team and as a young unit to come and win games like this."