Pakistan fail to adjust to demanding pitch
Sparks of instinct, moments of inspiration, flashes of genius. They just happen. And sides like Pakistan seize them. They can't be planned for, and they just weren't coming today for Pakistan. What they required was sensible and unglamorous batting through and through, as is usually the case in tricky chases on difficult pitches. And even the most ardent fan knew in his heart that Pakistan's batsmen had been found wanting twice before in this tournament.
From the moment Sri Lanka chose to bat on a powdery pitch in the semi-final of a world event, Pakistan were up against it because of their shaky batting, unless their bowling and fielding was of the standard that sunk Australia. That was Australia on a surface out of their comfort zone; this was Sri Lanka at home. Pakistan's bowlers didn't have an off day, though. They kept Sri Lanka to 139, which Mohammad Hafeez said was not even a par score, and was definitely achievable despite the turning pitch.
But Pakistan's chase alternated between reckless and clueless. Three of the top seven batsmen got out the reckless way, two of them the clueless way. Kamran Akmal and Shahid Afridi had no business playing the strokes they did so early. Kamran went hard at his second ball, a cutter; Afridi tried to force his first ball from the crease.
Pakistan had seen Mahela Jaywardene assess the pitch early and play an innings full of strokes he thought were safe on it. Sweeps, reverse-sweeps and dabs worked for Jaywardene, but expecting Afridi to take a few deliveries to size up the surface is to expect the sun not to rise tomorrow.
After the game, Mohammad Hafeez kept calling Afridi his match-winner but Pakistan have to seriously review Afridi's batting position now. Powerful and reliable batsmen like Suresh Raina come in at No. 7 in limited-overs cricket. Afridi might still have a lot to offer as a legspinner, but Pakistan desperately need someone who can last more than a few deliveries at No. 7.
While Afridi and Kamran refused to respect the surface, Imran Nazir and Shoaib Malik were uncertain in defence. They too paid the price. The track demanded several skills from the batsman, and Pakistan did not have answers. Only Nasir Jamshed, who got a poor decision, can escape blame.
Hafeez can, as well, to a certain extent. He is clearly not the man to open in a Twenty20 international. He just does not have the explosive game. On this pitch, however, he could have played a decisive role, and had it not been for his charge-and-heave at Rangana Herath in the 15th over, Pakistan might have won the game. Hafeez had shown character until then, moving from 3 off 15 to 42 off 39. Like Jayawardene, he took his time; unlike Jayawardene, he scratched around, looking entirely unconvincing; and unlike Jayawardene, he worked out that he would be scoring in front of square, rather than behind it.
With 49 needed off 36 balls and six wickets in hand, few Test-level sides will unravel as quickly as Pakistan did. Even before the 18th over had ended, they were almost out of the game. The batting had lost them the India match as well, and it had nearly lost them the South Africa game, but that evening Umar Gul experienced a few moments of inspiration.
A team cannot go through entire tournaments reliant on moments or sparks or flashes to cover for a lack of batting backbone. Imran Khan didn't win the 1992 World Cup in that fashion. Those instants are an opportunity to shift momentum, the chance to build something. In the end, sustainable building requires old-fashioned masonry, something Pakistan were just not willing to do tonight. Is it any wonder then, that after six successive ICC tournament semi-finals - a commendable achievement - they have just one title to show?
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo