Sharjah Diary: Pakistan on a magnificent roll
This new-look team is displaying the kind of consistency that is indeed rare for Pakistani outfit. So far it has maintained its unbeaten run, winning three matches out of three. That when it has been made to play back-to-back matches. What is more it has notched these wins in some style. The one against Sri Lanka on Friday in front of a packed-to-capacity, mostly partisan and deafeningly vociferous, crowd was no exception. And it has landed them a place in the ARY Gold Cup final, leaving the Lankans and the Kiwis to fight it out between them for the second slot.
It was the duo of Saeed Anwar - named ARY Man of the Match - and Inzamam-ul-Haq, who refused to be dismissed, put on 172 for the third wicket before being separated. Each of them failed to reach the three-figure mark when it seemed a mere handshake away but their stand gave Pakistan impetus to post 278, the highest first innings total.
Once Pakistan had put 278 on the board, with the asking rate 5.58 runs per over from the outset, what the Lankans needed was a really flamboyant start, something like the one Shahid Afridi produced the other day against the Kiwis. Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana are both capable of such blazing stuff and they started in the right vein, going after the weaker link, the rookie Kashif Raza. They gave him a baptism by fire, with Jayasuriya hitting him out of the ground at extra cover.
But their fireworks didn't last long, as under extreme pressure to winkle out a wicket, Waqar Younis produced a beauty to bowl Jayasuriya neck and crop, and then Kaluwitharana dragged Kashif on to his stumps to give the debutant his first wicket.
Despite that the Lankans, at 139 for three, were not all that badly placed at the half-way mark. Here Younis made two inspired changes, bringing on Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik to bowl in tandem. So inspired was this double change that for the next 20 overs he didn't have to consider making another, as in the meanwhile five wickets fell for the addition of only 80 runs.
Afridi struck early, in his very first over, getting the resolute Russell Arnold, and following it up with Marvan Atapattu's scalp in the next over. Malik got Kumar Dharmasena and a while later Afridi got his third, Indika de Saram. I felt the decisions of caught behind on Arnold and Dharmasena were questionable based on television replays but neutral umpires gave both and this is part of the game these days.
The rest only delayed the inevitable, with Chaminda Vaas's resistance landing him an unbeaten 50 - and that fell in the realm of too little too late.
A word about Anwar: In this tournament, he has made a fifty -- and a big one at that, with scores of 90, unbeaten 81 and 88 -- in every outing. Yet he has been unable to convert these into centuries - and one knows for sure that deep down he really resents not getting the elusive 20th hundred.
Against Sri Lanka, he was involved in a silly run out, that of Afridi, on his call. To atone for that, he had to make a substantive contribution and at a fast clip. He did just that, the only blemish being that he and Inzamam couldn't take it to the end. But in the ultimate analysis it didn't matter for their effort was good enough to carry the day for their team.