Pakistan botch another 250-plus chase
When teams face challenging targets, sometimes all it takes for the chase to swing decisively their way is a couple of big overs. Clinical finishers recognise this and bat sensibly, turning the strike over and putting away bad balls, even as the required rate mounts. They know the pressure will tell on the bowling side. They know the big overs will come.
Having come together with 176 required off 159 balls, Misbah-ul-Haq and Umar Akmal were approaching the chase of 296 in just that spirit. They rotated strike, and picked off bad balls, and had put on 61 in 69 deliveries when they took the batting Powerplay. Pakistan, at that stage, needed 115 from 90.
The five Powerplay overs brought Misbah and Akmal 33 runs. Only 14 of these runs came in boundaries, each of which was either the result of poor bowling or calculated risk. Misbah flicked a leg stump half-volley from Lasith Malinga past short fine leg and dumped a flighted delivery from Sachithra Senanayake, with the turn, over deep midwicket. Akmal gave himself room to launch the spinner past the unmanned deep extra-cover boundary.
Those 33 runs brought the equation down to 82 from 60. Both batsmen, by now, were well set. In the first post-Powerplay over, Akmal hammered Suranga Lakmal for two fours and a six, going past 50 in the process. In the next over, he lofted left-arm spinner Chaturanga de Silva over extra cover and late-cut him virtually from within the keeper's gloves, to pick up two more fours.
The two big overs had arrived. The momentum had swung Pakistan's way. The stadium was only a third full, but most of that crowd seemed to be supporting Pakistan. Their chants filled the air. Their team now needed just 57 from 48.
Most teams in the world that need 57 from 48 balls, with six wickets in hand and two half-centurions at the crease, would go on to win comfortably. With Pakistan, however, you never quite know. And this isn't just recourse to the 'mercurial Pakistan' stereotype.
Since February 2011, when Misbah scored an unbeaten 93 to guide them to a two-wicket win chasing 263 in Napier, Pakistan had lost every time when chasing a target in excess of 250 - 11 matches. In Fatullah they were in a position to end that unwanted streak. They needed 57 from 48, with six wickets in hand. Misbah was batting on 67, Akmal on 72.
Lakmal had gone for 16 runs in his previous over. Angelo Mathews, the Sri Lanka captain, kept him on. Perhaps he had the inkling of a rash stroke from Akmal, who had exchanged words with Lakmal seven overs before. Third ball of Lakmal's over, Akmal threw a diagonal bat at a wide length ball. Kumar Sangakkara snapped up the edge behind the stumps.
At this point Pakistan needed a batsman with a cool head, a batsman who could bat sensibly, give Misbah the strike and calm things down. In walked Shahid Afridi. He slapped the seventh ball he faced straight into cover's hands.
Three balls later, Misbah holed out. Some situations can get to the coolest of heads. Out of nowhere, Lasith Malinga had two wickets in an over: a wide length ball slapped straight to cover, a length ball on leg stump hoicked to deep square leg. Pakistan were seven down.
They still only needed 43 from 30, and all the Pakistan batsmen who had got out playing silly shots - all the way back to Sharjeel Khan and Sohaib Maqsood earlier in the innings - will have had a sick feeling in their stomachs when two fluky, edged boundaries from Saeed Ajmal brought their target down to 17 from 12.
It wasn't to be, of course, but it could have been, so easily. Instead, Pakistan suffered a 12th straight defeat in a 250-plus chase.
"The way Umar and I had a partnership going, if we had just played out the overs the match was easy," Misbah later said. "Only a wicket could get them back in the game, and that is the mistake we made."
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo