The R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo witnessed a match of great intensity between two teams keen to press home the advantage. Pakistan and Sri Lanka fought for two crucial points that come with a win in their Group A match. In the end, Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi’s fine bowling effort saw them prevail by 11 runs.
Chasing a formidable target of 278 under lights to win the match, Sri Lanka got off to a slow start in the face of some disciplined bowling by the Pakistan seamers Shoaib Akhtar and Abdul Razzaq as they gave nothing away. Upul Tharanga struck a beautiful cover drive off Akhtar in the fourth over to ease some of the pressure. He then played an imperious cut through point in the 10th over and looked in good touch. Tillakaratne Dilshan, on the other hand, looked uncomfortable and survived a leading edge behind square that did not carry. He settled soon and eased a shot past cover for a boundary in the 6th over.
The introduction of Umar Gul and Mohammad Hafeez ensured some runs for Sri Lanka as the 50 came in 11.2 overs. Tharanga, however, fell in the 15th over when he could not keep a drive down and saw Afridi at mid-off take a smart catch. This was just the breakthrough that Pakistan needed. Dilshan soon followed suit as he tried to cut Afridi square of the wicket but ended up inside edging the ball on to his stumps. Sri Lanka were in trouble when Shoaib Akhtar got a length delivery to reverse swing and beat Mahela Jayawardene’s defences. Further trouble was to follow as Thilan Samaraweera was drawn outside the crease by a beautiful delivery from Afridi but the ball turned sharply and the batsman couldn’t get his feet back in time to prevent the stumping. 4 wickets had fallen in 7 overs for just 20 runs.
Chamara Silva and skipper Kumar Sangakkara then set about to prevent further damage. The pair consumed a lot of dot balls, especially Silva, which turned out to be very crucial at the end. The pair added 73 runs for the fifth wicket but took 16.2 overs. Sri Lanka took the batting Powerplay in the 34th over as soon as the ball was changed. Sangakkara was finally dismissed trying to force the pace against Afridi and only succeeded in giving a catch to Ahmed Shehzad at long on.
Silva had a life when Abdur Rehman failed to hold a skier and it looked like Pakistan would have to pay for this as he started opening up. He swept Rehman for a four behind square and followed that up with one more boundary which went finer. The 200 was up in the 43rd over but Angelo Mathews was dismissed soon giving a catch to long off and Afridi his fourth wicket of the match. Silva reached his fifty in the 45th over and Sri Lanka still had hope.
However, two quick wickets dented their chances severely. Thisara Perera was castled by a full delivery from Shoaib Akhtar and Rehman got his revenge when he tempted Silva with a wide ball and had the batsman stumped by wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal. Kulasekara tried spiritedly but the target evaded Sri Lanka.
Afridi had won the toss in the afternoon and decided to bat on a good batting track. Ahmed Shehzad did not stay long though he promised much. He edged behind to a Thisara Perera delivery that had extra bounce. However, Mohammad Hafeez and Kamran Akmal flayed the attack and Sangakkara erred by exposing the leg side to the Pakistani batsmen. Hafeez lofted Kulasekara audaciously over square leg as if he was a spinner and then followed it with a scoop to the boundary. A lot of runs were scored in the region between square leg and long on as Pakistan accelerated.
The stand was broken through a comical run out. Hafeez swept Muralitharan to short fine leg and Kamran immediately set off for a non-existent single while Hafeez stood rooted to his crease. Jayawardene threw the ball to Sangakkara who then inexplicably threw the ball over the bowler’s head. Fortunately for Sri Lanka, Rangana Herath stopped the overthrow and passed it on to Murali who whipped the bails at the non-striker’s end. Hafez was given out after consultations with the TV umpire.
Kamran then repeated his mistake against Kenya when he charged down to Herath and was duly stumped by Sangakkara. For the second time in as many matches, he threw his wicket away when well set. This brought Misbah-ul-Haq to the crease and Pakistan recovered slowly and steadily through his fourth wicket partnership with Younis Khan. Again, most of the runs came on the leg side. Younis Khan reached his fifty in the 35th over.
Pakistan had reached 209/3 in 40 overs and were looking good to get past 300 since they had not yet taken their batting Powerplay. Misbah-ul-Haq also reached his fifty in the 41st over and the momentum was with Pakistan. However, Sri Lanka came back into the match strongly in the last 10 overs through some superb death bowling. Herath got Younis Khan to sweep and the top edge carried to short fine leg. The batting Powerplay was taken in the 44th over but this yielded only 36 runs for the loss of Umar Akmal’s wicket. Umar, in an effort to force the pace, slog swept Muralitharan to deep midwicket only to see Dilshan take the catch. Just 68 runs were scored by Pakistan in the last 10 overs for the loss of 4 wickets. They fell at least 20 runs short but it turned out that the total was just enough to save the day.
Sri Lanka will look back and find that they lost the match through some injudicious batting in the middle overs. The way they played Afridi was a bit of a concern. Constantly, they tried to play the conventional cut shot against him but never realized that the late cut would have been a better option. Also, the choice of Silva over Kapugedera in the playing eleven was baffling as Kapugedera is a far more attacking batsman than Silva. Their bowlers had an off day and need to regroup and learn from the mistakes in the matches ahead.
Pakistan will be pleased with their batting but need to shore up the bowling. Umar Gul was sloppy and they always depended on Afridi for the wickets. Their fielding and catching also has a lot to improve if they are to progress further in the tournament. Nevertheless, the dark horses are on a roll and the other teams would be wary of them now.