SHARJAH, Oct 24 (Agencies): Sri Lanka defeated Bangladesh by five wickets in a feisty T20 World Cup clash on Sunday, hammering home their status as surprise title contenders.
Chasing an imposing target of 172, the 2014 champions saw Charith Asalanka (80 not out) and Bhanuka Rajapaksa (53) lead them to victory for a fourth successive win after three triumphs in the qualifying round.
Earlier, Mushfiqur Rahim, with an undefeated 57 and opener Mohammad Naim, who hit 62, starred for Bangladesh in the Super 12 game after being put into bat.
England, Australia, South Africa and West Indies are the other teams in the group, from where the top two will make the semi-finals.
Bangladeshi fans had their hearts in their throat when Liton Das dropped Rajapaksa on eight of Afif Hossain and Asalanka on 63 of Mustafizur Rahman two overs later in two crucial lapses, which allowed the Islanders to steer to the win with seven balls remaining.
Having posted a challenging total, Bangladesh began their defence well when Nasum Ahmed went through the gates of Kusal Perera (1) in the opening over.
Asalanka then put up resistance with Nissanka, as the duo cracked regular boundaries to keep up with the required rate, bludgeoning 54 runs in the powerplay.
With the duo easing through on one for 71 in the ninth over, Mahmudullah brought on Shakib Al Hasan who snuck through the gates of Nissanka and Avishka Fernando (0) in the space of four balls, becoming the highest wicket-taker in T20 World Cups with 41, leaving Shahid Afridi (39) behind in second place.
Six balls later, seamer Saifuddin bagged Wanindu Hasaranga de Silva (six) scalp to leave Sri Lanka stuttering on 79 for four, as the Tigers roared back into the game.
The bowling from the men in red and green, however, was not on point, as wayward deliveries were duly punished by Asalanka and birthday boy Rajapaksa.
"I am happy to hit a winning knock for my country," said Asalanka who got the winning runs off a boundary with seven balls to spare.
"When I faced the first ball, it looked like a good pitch, and I backed myself to play my natural game. Rajapaksa played a brilliant knock, and he changed the momentum."
Asalanka made his runs from 49 balls, hitting five boundaries and five sixes, as he and Rajapaksa put on 86 for the fourth wicket.
Both men were dropped by Liton Das with Rajapaksa reprieved after he had made only 14.
The lone bright spot for Bangladesh in the field was the two wickets in four balls by Shakib Al Hasan to dismiss Pathum Nissanka and Aviskha Fernando.
"I thought 171 could be defended. Liton and Naim gave us a very good start. Mushfiq played a brilliant innings," said Bangladesh skipper Mahmudullah Riyad.
"We were in the game till the tenth over. But things went wrong for us after that."
Bangladesh had made 40 by the sixth over before they lost their first wicket and the sparks flew.
Liton Das (16) was caught by Sri Lanka skipper Dasun Shanaka at mid-off trying to hoist Lahiru Kumara into the outfield.
However, Liton and Kumara then exchanged angry words with fellow Bangladesh opener Naim pushing away Kumara. Both umpires had to intervene before the game continued.
Kumara went on to bowl a 'beamer', clocked at over 140kmh, at Mushfiqur in the penultimate over, forcing the Bangladesh player to take evasive action.
Naim made 62 from 52 balls before he was eventually dismissed in the 17th over, caught and bowled by Binura Fernando.
Naim and Mushfiqur Rahim put on 73 for the third wicket, as Bangladesh upped the pace. The classy Mushfiqur reached at his sixth T20 half century off 32 balls with four boundaries and two sixes.
Sri Lanka were without key spinner Maheesh Theekshana, who had claimed eight wickets in three qualifying matches, as Sri Lanka swept into the Super 12 stage. The 21-year-old had been suffering with a back injury.
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