Bhanuka Rajapaksa
Sri Lankan batsman Bhanuka Rajapaksa hammers a six against Pakistan in the DP World Asia Cup final at the Dubai International Stadium on September 11, 2022. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Bhanuka Rajapaksa is the powerhouse in the Sri Lanka middle order. He is no mindless slogger. Backed by a good technique, Rajapaksa’s muscular shoulders can heave sixes in the arc from cover to midwicket, while his powerful wrists help him clear square-leg easily.

His powerhitting skills were a feature of Sri Lanka’s games in the T20 World Cup in the UAE in 2021. Rajapaksa and Charith Asalanka drew plenty of praise for their fearless batting, although Sri Lanka didn’t progress very far in the tournament.

But Rajapaksa’s contributions did help in the DP World Asia Cup, and the triumph will provide the impetus for a new generation of players. Rajapaksa is certainly the bulwark for a team that has begun to believe in themselves.

How Rajapaksa gave Sri Lanka a winning total

He wasn’t scoring big in the early matches; most innings were in the range of thirties. The problem is that Rajapaksa can get carried away with his big hitting. That was often the case, but it didn’t matter since Sri Lanka bat very deep. Never mind the nervy finishes.

The final was different. Rajapaksa walked into a crisis. At 58/5, the left-hander had to curb his attacking instincts as Wanindu Hasaranga laid into the Pakistan bowling. When Hasaranga departed, the two had shored up the innings, but Sri Lanka weren’t totally out of the woods. Rajapaksa shifted gears and finished with a last-ball six, a screaming shot that sailed over the cover fence.

Bhanuka Rajapaksa
Bhanuka Rajapaksa receives the player of the match award after Sri Lanka won the DP World Asia Cup final against Pakistan at the Dubai International Stadium on September 11, 2022. Image Credit: AP

Captain Dasun Shanaka heaped praise on Rajapaksa, saying his knock gave Sri Lanka a winning total. “The last six Bhanuka hit was special. Because it took us over the 170-mark, a mental barrier. And chasing 170 on this wicket is tough. At that moment, we knew we had a winning total,” he said.

Rajapaksa has had a turbulent relationship with Sri Lankan cricket. He retired in January, citing family obligations, although it was apparent that his weight-management and fitness issues led to a thorny relationship with coach Mickey Arthur.

Following Arthur’s departure, the Sri Lankan Cricket requested Rajapaksa to reconsider his decision, which he did. He did miss out on the tours of Australia and India, but used the stint with Punjab Kings in the Indian Premier League to shake the rust off his game.

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Since then, he’s been enjoying his role, although he no longer comes in at No 3 or 4. “At No 5, I have a different role. And the management feels that it’s beneficial for the team, and I am happy to do that,” Rajapaksa said at one of his press conferences in Dubai.

It did work out for Sri Lanka, as he contributed consistently in the Asia Cup. But the knock in the final was special as it set up the Sri Lankan victory and won him the Player of the Match award.

“It is a wonderful moment and wonderful innings. Hopefully, I can play more [such innings] for Sri Lanka in the future,” Rajapaksa said.

The T20 World Cup is around the corner. Keep your eyes peeled for Rajapaksa’s sixes.