In a victory which should be a morale-booster ahead of the World T20, Pakistan outlasted Sri Lanka by seven wickets at the Shere Bangla Stadium in Mirpur. Their middle-order finally came to the party as the Lankans were let down by inconsistent bowling and shoddy fielding.
Earlier, Shahid Afridi won the toss and decided to make first use of a bowler-friendly pitch. Pakistan made a slew of changes with Mohammad Nawaz, Wahab Riaz, and Iftikhar Ahmed returning. For Sri Lanka, Angelo Mathews’s calf-strain ruled him out and Chandimal took over the reins.
Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Irfan took the new-ball in a bid to pick up wickets at the top of the order. Even though they beat the bat frequently, they had nothing to show for in the wickets column.
Irfan, in particular, was guilty of continuing to bowl too short on a pitch which demanded pitched-up deliveries. Amir posed a few questions to Tillakaratne Dilshan who in turn held on grimly.
Once they saw him off, Dilshan and Chandimal began to open up their radar. They were helped by Afridi's poor decision-making to bring on spin from both ends during as early as the fifth over.
The consequence was that both batsmen started to rotate the strike without too much fuss. Mohammad Nawaz had a horrible outing as Dilshan plundered 18 runs off his first over which improved their run-rate.
There was only one opportunity in the Power-Play when Dilshan top-edged a sweep shot off Afridi. But, Irfan failed to judge properly and spilled the catch. Wahab Riaz was introduced in the 9th over and duly conceded a flurry of boundaries to Chandimal in his next over.
But, he bounced back to dismiss the 26-year old with a shortened delivery. Nevertheless, his fifty had set up a monstrous opening stand for Sri Lanka. Pakistan sustained their new-found momentum by inducing a mini-collapse. Malik’s part-time spin was complemented by a fine over from Irfan who reaped the rewards of pitching it up.
Meanwhile, Dilshan pursued his resurgence with an audacious reverse-scoop off Amir. He was also aided once again by Irfan who made a complete mockery of a sitter. Pakistan’s fielding had turned from terrible to atrocious as Sri Lanka eventually reached 150.
Sharjeel Khan and Mohammad Hafeez looked to begin the chase positively. After hitting successive boundaries, Hafeez perished to Shehan Jayasuriya by offering a simple return catch.
But, Sharjeel attacked relentlessly and smashed Dushmantha Chameera for four consecutive boundaries. Using the lanky seamer’s extra pace, the opener whittled away at the target rapidly.
With the game running away, Chandimal turned to the slow bowlers. Dilshan struck with his very first ball by scalping the key wicket of Sharjeel to pull things back. After an aggressive start, the left-hander had given it away with a loose shot.
On the other end, Rangana Herath was decoded after a couple of quiet overs when Sarfaraz Ahmed dispatched the veteran spinner through mid-on and mid-off. Milinda Siriwardana broke a blossoming partnership by trapping Sarfraz in front.
However, the most decisive over in the match tilted the scales back in Pakistan’s favor. Umar Akmal feasted on some abominable bowling from Siriwardana to ensure that the required rate dropped down to just under 8.
Despite a blinder from Thisara Perera to send back Akmal, it was too little too late as Shoaib Malik completed the proceedings to earn a well deserved win for ‘The Men in Green’.
Brief Scores: Sri Lanka 150/4 (Dilshan 75*, Chandimal 58, Irfan 2-18); Pakistan 151/4 from 19.2 overs (Umar 48, Sarfraz 38, Kulasekara 1-20)
Result: Pakistan won by 6 wickets