April 4, 2003

Pakistan complete tense seven-wicket win against Sri Lanka

Pakistan's batsmen had put in a scratchy display in the Sharjah Cup opener, but today they got their act together, chasing down a target of 224 to register their second win in consecutive days. The win gave Pakistan five points to add to the six they took yesterday, making them firm favourites to reach the final.

It was a splendid performance by a team which, just a few weeks ago, looked completely dispirited and beaten. The inclusion of young players injected a spark and vitality which transformed Pakistan in the field. Despite Kumar Sangakkara's spunky century - his first in one-day internationals - Sri Lanka managed just 223 after winning the toss. Then, Yousuf Youhana (64 not out) and Younis Khan (57 not out) clinically won the match with common-sense batting, putting together 124 for the fourth wicket at better than a run a ball.

Sri Lanka had an excellent opportunity to nip the partnership long before it assumed alarming proportions. Youhana, on 10, lofted Sanath Jayasuriya to long-on, where Jehan Murabak spilled a regulation catch. Youhana celebrated by sweeping the next ball for four, and from there on, there was only one team which looked like winning.

The foundation for Pakistan's run-chase was laid by a circumspect 76-run second wicket partnership by Mohammad Hafeez and Faisal Iqbal, after Taufeeq Umar was bowled by a Dilhara Fernando special which pitched on off and straightened (21 for 1). Hafeez was particularly impressive with his defensive technique, handling the seamers and Muttiah Muralitharan with an ease which belied the fact that he was only in his second ODI.

Then, both of them departed in a three-ball period, courtesy two run-outs. First, Hafeez - after reaching a well-controlled half-century - was stranded when he played to mid-on and Faisal refused a single (97 for 2). A ball later, it was Faisal's turn to be sent back, when Youhana nudged a ball to midwicket and stayed in the crease. Marvan Atapattu's throw at the bowlers' end dismissed Faisal for 32, but that brought Pakistan's senior batsmen to the crease.

Both Youhana and Younis took the attack to the bowlers with powerful hits and cleverly placed singles. They were also aided by the dew in the outfield, which significantly hampered the effectiveness of the Sri Lankan spinners. Muttiah Muralitharan was economical, but hardly got the usual prodigious turn.

Earlier, Sangakkara's hundred lit up an otherwise disappointing batting effort by Sri Lanka. It was Sri Lanka's first match since Aravinda de Silva retired, and with Mahela Jayawardene left out, the onus was largely on Jayasuriya and Atapattu to deliver. They failed, but Sangakkara's spunky hundred - his first in one-day internationals - averted complete humiliation.

Being asked to field first against a powerful batting line-up on a placid pitch was a daunting task, but Pakistan's bowlers showed superb control, and the fielders - led by Hafeez patrolling the covers - ensured that Pakistan never lost their grip on the game.

Pakistan's alertness in the field was exemplified early on by an excellent piece of captaincy to remove Atapattu for 13. Atapattu creamed a typically fluent cover-drive off Umar Gul, then found the gap plugged immediately, as Rashid Latif removed the slip and strengthened the off-side cordon. Two balls later, Atapattu attempted to chop the ball, and only managed an inside edge onto his stumps (26 for 1).

Jayasuriya (27) was seldom given width to play the crashing drives through cover, and when Sami did throw one wide, Jayasuriya slammed it straight to Hafeez at cover (44 for 2). Sangakkara shared useful partnerships with Avishka Gunawardene, Mubarak and Hashan Tillekeratne, but none of them stayed long enough to put Sri Lanka in charge.

Naved-ul-Hasan, the medium-pacer in his debut match, then got into the act with wickets off consecutive yorkers. Tillekeratne - the fifth left-hander in Sri Lanka's top six - was the first victim, while Prasanna Jayawardene fared no better than his namesake, with a first-ball duck (166 for 6).

Kumar Dharmasena saw off the hat-trick ball, and then stitched together a crucial 57-run stand off just 48 balls with Sangakkara, who played a splendid, measured innings. On a slow pitch, he nurdled the singles early on, eschewing risks and yet scoring at a busy rate - with wickets falling regularly at the other end, there was little room for cavalier batsmanship.

Then, in the last overs, he opened out with straight-drives and pulls. Sangakkara started the last over on 94, smashed Sami over point for four, and then dabbed a single to leg to reach a well-deserved century. In the end, his one-man show was forced to yield to Pakistan's allround efficiency.