Sri Lanka prevail over spirited UAE
Sri Lanka secured their second big win in two days, this time over UAE, to progress to the second round of the Asia Cup with two points in the bag. Chasing 291, UAE looked like they would make a match of it as opener Amjad Ali hit a spectacular half-century but they hurtled to defeat after his departure, losing their last six wickets for 15 runs as Ajantha Mendis finished with career-best figures of 5 for 22.
Shrugging away any exhaustion from having kept wicket earlier, Amjad took three consecutive fours off the opening over from Nuwan Kulasekera. A wristy flick over square leg, a fine glance past fine leg and a punch between mid-on and midwicket proved Amjad was not going to wait for the bowler to make a mistake.
Perhaps the shot of the day, though, came in the next over when a forward punch from Amjad, powered by a Lara-esque high backlift, sent the ball racing past mid-off. Even the loss of his opening partner Arshad Ali, who was beaten by a brilliant pick and throw by Chamara Kapugedera early on, didn't hinder Amjad's approach.
His cavalier approach took UAE to 83 for 1 after 15 overs and even forced Mahela Jayawardene to delay taking the third Powerplay. Although their reaching the target in 39.1 overs - and so pipping Bangladesh to the second round - was unlikely, they were still in with a chance to pull off an upset. Those hopes faded when Amjad fell trying to clear the long-on boundary off Tillakaratne Dilshan in the 24th over and the tail proved unable to deal with Mendis's mystery spin.
Despite the huge margin of defeat, this wasn't the easy game Mahela Jayawardene would have expected. Having elected to bat first Sri Lanka received an immediate jolt when Wednesday's centurion, Kumar Sangakkara, was trapped plumb low on his back leg by the accurate Zahid Shah. Bowling a tight line and hitting the seam hard, Shah kept the batsmen guessing and was easily the best fast bowler on the day.
After that initial setback, Sri Lanka picked themselves up and sped to 76 for 1 by the end of the first Powerplay. Shah didn't get any support from Fahal Alhashmi, his new-ball partner, who was, at best, erratic. After bowling two wides in his first over, Alhashmi delivered four more in his next, conceding 15 runs off that over, including an exquisite straight boundary by Mahela Udawatte, who went on to make a patient 67.
There was a brief lull before Shah was clubbed by Jayawardene for four consecutive boundaries. But it was important to keep the tempo going in the muggy heat and Jayawardene, who had reached his half-century, looked tired after the drinks break and was run out off a direct hit when going for a tight single.
At one stage, Sri Lanka seemed likely to cross 300 for the second successive day but a mixture of exhaustion, poor shot selection and impatience helped UAE, who had only played 10 ODIs coming into the game, restrict them.
The two Chamaras, Kapugedera and Silva, didn't show any patience and, attempting to force the issue, threw their wickets in quick succession. Though Sri Lanka raced to 147 in 20 overs, they had lost four top-order batsmen and were left with their last recognised pair of Udawatte and Tillakaratne Dilshan at the crease. The run-rate started to dip as just seven boundaries were scored after the 15th over. And there was not one six in the entire innings.
The onus fell now on the tiring Udawatte and Dilshan. But UAE sensed they had an opportunity as runs dried up in the middle overs. Alhasmi came back in style to first get rid of Udawatte, who mistimed while trying to clear the rope and holed out to midwicket. Dilshan then chased a wide off-side delivery and managed a thick edge to the keeper.
With just the tail to deal with and Sri Lanka stuttering at 189 for 6 after 30 overs, UAE failed to curb Kaushalya Weeraratne and Nuwan Kulasekara, who stopped the slide and constructed a valuable 53-run eighth-wicket partnership.
UAE managed to put on a much better show than the other Associate nation in the tournament, Hong Kong, but the big boys proved too strong for them.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo