Sri Lanka v Pakistan, Champions Trophy 2017, Group B, Cardiff June 12, 2017

SL let it slip despite Malinga's best efforts

Three glaring dropped catches off the bowling of Lasith Malinga were pivotal as Sri Lanka's "pathetic" fielding cost them a semi-final place

Lasith Malinga was stretching between almost every delivery of his final over. His body can't do what it used to. And there would be no miracle. Sarfraz Ahmed angled a short-of-a-length delivery, at not much above medium pace, fine of third man and started sprinting off in a random direction with a celebratory run to rival Imran Tahir.

We might not see Malinga in a global competition again. It could have been such a different story.

This may have been the most exciting match of the Champions Trophy, but it was also the lowest quality barring the burst between Mohammad Amir and Junaid Khan which dissected Sri Lanka's middle order. In many ways it was astonishing they got themselves into a position to be considered favourites.

They scrambled to 236 but when Fakhar Zaman burst to a 33-ball fifty it looked to have broken the game. Somehow, though, Sri Lanka claimed seven wickets for 88 with, basically, a three-man bowling attack although Thisara Perera chipped in with the scalp of Mohammad Hafeez. However, Perera's key part in the afternoon was still to come.

One-by-one Pakistan's top order offered a helping hand, though Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep were once again impressive with their perseverance. But with the flying start provided by Fakhar, Angelo Mathews had to throw his lot in with his main bowlers. Pradeep was done by the 37th over, Lakmal by the 42nd.

Fielding first, as they did against South Africa and India, it is easier to absorb the weaker bowlers because a captain knows they'll have a chance to chase whatever is set. It worked against India in record-breaking fashion. But defending a low total the attack was thin beyond the main three. Mathews insisted there was no other option, needing the extra batting cover even though it was Dhananjaya de Silva who had only arrived 48 hours ago.

Everything had to go their way in the field. It needed a faultless display. Instead a familiar foe reared its head.

Malinga returned to the attack for the 39th over. The stand between Sarfraz and Amir had reduced Pakistan's requirement to 44. The balls remaining wasn't even an issue. It was bowl them out or lose the game.

Malinga loosened himself up - as much as he could - with a bouncer. The next delivery was an attempted slower-ball yorker which drifted down the leg side. Then he followed it with another slower one, straighter this time, and Sarfraz was early on his shot. The ball spooned, almost in slow motion, towards mid-on. Pakistan were going to be eight down; Sri Lanka favourites again. Except Thisara thought he was catching a bar of soap. And it ended up on the shower floor.

To a man, Sri Lanka had their hands on their heads. Mathews, who later termed Sri Lanka's fielding "shambolic" wore a look of thunder. But that wasn't the end of it; it hadn't even been the start.

Seekkuge Prasanna's reprieve of Sarfraz Ahmed was the toughest of three chances put down off Lasith Malinga © Getty Images

In the opening over of the chase, Azhar Ali cut firmly to Danushka Gunathilaka at point - a man who has taken blinding catches in that position - but the chance went down. It was simple, but not as simple as Thisara's.

"It was unfortunate that we dropped his catches today, he would have been a different bowler, but still he came out and gave his heart out, and he is a champion bowler for us," Mathews said.

Malinga, whose own drop of Faf du Plessis at The Oval was another crucial moment, had been able to stew at mid-on after Thisara's blunder, often with his arms crossed as though he had no intention of fielding a delivery but his next over was of Keystone Cops proportions.

It began with another slower bouncer which Sarfraz hooked in the air towards deep square. The fielder, substitute Seekugge Prasanna had to run it and dive forward for the catch. The ball hit his hands and then the ground. It was the toughest of the catches put down, but Sri Lanka needed a moment of inspiration and it had passed them by again.

Next delivery, Amir pushed the ball into the covers where it slipped through the legs of the fielder. Two balls later, Amir is then beaten, it bounces before reaching wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella who couldn't get a glove on it, the ball ricocheting off his leg to fine leg for four byes.

But the over wasn't done there. The next delivery was prodded to short cover and, again, was let through for a run. The final ball was blocked. There was a loud cheer. It sounded as though it was from the Pakistan contingent for a solid shot, but it may have been from the Sri Lankans for the fact the ball was picked up without drama.

"The boys have worked extremely hard," Mathews said. "Today we dropped three catches, but there has been a genuine effort from the boys and from the support staff, and we've expressed a lot about our fielding, we've talked about it a lot, and we put a lot of energy on our fielding. So, there has been a genuine effort on fielding."

Four overs later, the game was done. The stuffing knocked out of Sri Lanka by 15 minutes of mayhem in an error-strewn match. In years gone by, even the 11 runs that Malinga had to play with when he started his final over may have been enough for something special. This time, though, Sarfraz comfortably picked off what was needed then charged off in celebration. No one was catching him. Least of all the Sri Lankans.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • cricfan1244731839 on June 14, 2017, 8:51 GMT

    Today's papers have identified the worst fielder in the team is a toss up between thisara perera and tharanga. it was gurusinghe who said fielding is the most important thing for selection. so did he keep his word the paper questions.

  • santhoo24 on June 13, 2017, 16:31 GMT

    The more I think about it, the more I feel like the title "SL let Malinga slip despite not intending to win" is more appropriate. I mean all those dropped catches and fielding slip-outs, show SL didn't have any motivation to win.

  • sreddi11 on June 13, 2017, 16:02 GMT

    SL weren't helped with the Tharanga suspension. It should have been 1 match at the most, 2 match ban seemed extreme

  • FedupSL on June 13, 2017, 15:29 GMT

    @Herath-UK: Panic set in after Mendis (2nd) wkt in SA match? What nonsense... there was no reason to be panicked at all in 1st game Vs SA having extremely healthy 94 runs for 2 wkts on the board in just 11 overs at that stage thanks to Openers Upul Tharanga & Dickwella. Having more than 8 runs per over in 11th over, chasing 299 should have been a cake walk at that stage. In-fact, if not for the 3 wkts (Mendis- 11/ Chandimal - 12 runs @ 57 SR/ Kapugedara-0 ) fell like a pack of cards for 23 runs within next 6 overs, the match could have ended in an easy win for SL. Tharanga was well set to score another 100 at that stage with 32 runs (5x4) @ 110 SR when Mendis got out & had scored 45 runs @ 93 SR when the 4th wkt fell in 18th over .!

    But due to this brittle middle-order collapse & at that stage No-6 Kusal Perera's extremely poor contribution managing just 15 runs from first 30 balls he faced @ 50 SR , Tharanga & No7 Asela had to risk their wkts to keep up laging RR & perished.!

  • Herath-UK on June 13, 2017, 13:43 GMT

    If you assess those two matches where we lost against SA & Pak, we see invariably the panic set in after the Mendis wicket (2nd Wicket).This was prevented against India because Kusal Perera walked in & handled the pressure superbly without slowing down the run rate too. Credit should go to the people who send him in. Kusal P seems to play with some restraint nowadays & hope he will be continued after the fall of second wicket in future.

  • SLMaster on June 13, 2017, 13:20 GMT

    Drop chandimal ... his wicket broke the momentum. Give Dhananjaya more chance at No #3 he will get better.

  • ramli on June 13, 2017, 13:16 GMT

    SL used to be miles ahead of India in fielding long before ... how days change? pathetic fielding causing their exit ... no feelings however ... it is chance for India Pakistan final now??

  • SLMaster on June 13, 2017, 12:52 GMT

    Drop Chandimal...drop Thisara...and work on fielding that still an issue.

  • switchmitch on June 13, 2017, 10:59 GMT

    SL don't have any crutch to stand on after that disaster of a performance. Dropping one or even two catches in a match can be chalked off as a bad day...but to miss that many catches, run out chances, over throws, not to mention fielding lapses, is nothing short of a debacle. If I remember correctly during the last phase of the match, Pakistan's runs required came down from around 32 to 20...all runs scored because of bad fielding. How can anyone expect to win with that kind of performance?

  • mohanan on June 13, 2017, 9:42 GMT

    To those who criticize Thisara for dropping that catch, even legends like Murali dropped catches in big tournaments under pressure. SL needs to address the lack of fast bowlers to replace Malinga once he retires. Drop Chandimal until he shows form in domestic matches. Dhananjaya is classy, but needs grooming.

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