Cricket’s common clichés include the importance of catches. Sri Lanka were left to rue missing not one but two chances to dismiss Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed in the all-important Champions Trophy clash at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff.
Chasing a straightforward target of 237, Pakistan threatened to pull off their trademark batting collapse. However, Sarfraz played purposefully under immense pressure and led his team past the finishing line. His vital partnership with Mohammad Amir enabled them to eke out a hard-fought 3-wicket victory.
On the other hand, Sri Lanka were knocked out of the tournament despite showing plenty of fight. Here’s how the events transpired in Pakistan’s nail-biting run chase.
Pakistan lose their way in the middle
Fakhar Zaman continued from where he left off in Edgbaston and powered Pakistan to a strong start. Batting with uninhibited freedom, the left-hander began to carve away at the target by taking the attack to the bowlers.
Meanwhile, at the other end, Azhar Ali survived some nervous moments before settling into the groove. Danushka Gunathilaka dropped the opener in the very first over the chase. Sri Lanka did not capitalise on the unconvincing running between the wickets as well.
With Zaman being the dominant partner, the duo put on 74 runs for the first wicket. When he was bounced out, the southpaw had already established a solid foundation with a 36-ball fifty. But things started to go pear-shaped for Pakistan once the opposition procured the breakthrough.
The likes of Babar Azam and Mohammad Hafeez departed in quick succession to allow Sri Lanka a way back into the contest. Once Azhar succumbed too, the good old Pakistani collapse was set in motion. Shoaib Malik and Imad Wasim were sent back to the dressing room without making any impact.
Playing his maiden international match, Faheem Ashraf looked to tackle the situation by launching a counterattack. But the thrill lasted only 15 deliveries. The sense of frustration was evident on Sarfraz’s face as wickets tumbled one after another.
Sri Lanka drop the game twice
In the company of a resourceful Amir, Sarfraz helped Pakistan get the run chase back on track. Veering away from unnecessary risks, the pair kept the scoreboard ticking by rotating the strike on a consistent basis. They displayed commendable game awareness by manoeuvring the field smartly and brought their team 44 runs adrift of the target.
Sensing the necessity for a wicket, captain Angelo Mathews brought the experienced Lasith Malinga back into the attack. The 33-year-old unfurled a slower delivery and induced a mistimed shot from Sarfraz. The ball approached Thisara Perera at perhaps the easiest height for catching. However, the all-rounder somehow managed to drop the simple catch.
Malinga could barely believe his luck even as Mathews did not make any attempt to hide his feeling of disappointment. If they thought the misery was over, they were mistaken. The seasoned fast bowler obtained another opportunity from the Pakistan skipper.
Unleashing a slower variation of a bouncer, he got the ball to rise steeply. Sarfraz was unable to get on top of the shot and his pull went only as far as Seekkuge Prasanna at deep square-leg. Despite diving in from the boundary, the substitute fielder was unable to hold on to the chance. All the pressure built and momentum generated went to waste due to sustained sloppiness in the field.
Stellar Sarfraz rides his luck
It’s one thing to receive luck but it’s another to make full use of it. Sarfraz did exactly that by keeping the Sri Lankans at bay until the end of the match. Realising that the day was going to belong to him, he proceeded to bat in a nerveless manner.
When Suranga Lakmal marginally erred in length, the street smart batsman from Karachi duly latched on. A couple of boundaries in the 42nd over went a long way in lifting the pressure. Amir played the supporting role to perfection by finding the gaps regularly.
After bringing up one of the most important half-centuries of his career thus far, Sarfraz ramped the winning runs in style and propelled Pakistan into the semi-finals. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka were left wondering if things would have been different had they held on to their catches.