ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
Sri Lanka v Pakistan, World Cup 2011, Group A, Colombo
A match of perfect twists and turns
High-quality batting, real fast bowling, clever legspin, collapses and recoveries plus a few howlers for good measure made for an enthralling encounter
February 26, 2011
At last, a big game to match the occasion. The World Cup has needed this and the 50-overs game has needed it as well. This was ODI cricket at its most infectious, when you feel it inside you, when you can't help but respond to its many rhythms and nuances, shift around as it shifts it gears, when each one of the 100 overs of the day is of meaning and consequence.
There was atmosphere at the R Premadasa from the off, music and noise for once. Pakistan's openers came out at Sri Lanka's bowlers and a game was on our hands. Soon there was comedy, in Mohammad Hafeez's run-out, when men lose their wits utterly to the occasion itself.
There was then intelligence and wisdom in the partnership of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq. For those who lack an appreciation of subtlety, the middle overs are hell. But how beautifully the pair manipulated angles and found space, a dink here, a deflection there, and how hard they ran. With barely any boundaries, the pair put on a 108-run stand at near enough a run a ball and the pace never felt as if it was slacking. In all they ran 65 singles and ten twos, true descendants of Asif Iqbal and Javed Miandad. Simultaneously there was the very physical appreciation of Sri Lankans in the field. Inside the circle they zipped around, like flying fish, hungry.
There was individual genius. In the build-up to this game, Pakistan spoke of Muttiah Muralitharan as if he wasn't Muttiah Muralitharan. He's too old, we play him well enough, he doesn't take wickets against us as he used to. All of this is essentially correct. Pakistan have learnt to play Muralitharan well but he still turned the entire nature of their innings, with his bowling at the death. It was mesmerising stuff, a reminder of his quite immense brain, against a bright young talent, and a batsman set and in real form. Basically it was defence, but beautiful and actually a form of attack.
The evening was lit up by those skills that, in the hands of limited overs, these days can often feel like the cricket equivalent of Didier Deschamps, football's most (in)famous water-carrier: called on for the dirty, unglamorous chores. Two passages of action were outstanding. The first was Shoaib Akhtar, who even at this stage in his career, is capable of recreating the heat every now and again of his early years. As a spectacle, pinging back Mahela Jayawardene's middle stump was difficult to better and it probably turned the game.
In the next over, Shahid Afridi's delicious undoing of Thilan Samaraweera effectively sealed matters. Pace at one end and leg-spin at the other: it is not an unusual combination any more but the richness of its choreography and the vast possibilities it contains has always been brought out best by Pakistan.
Later, we saw how men and collectives can fall apart. Pakistan do it often but there's always a strange calmness about how it happens. To the eye, it doesn't feel like anything is breaking down. No one is running about shouting or screaming, there are smiles and expressionless faces and bemused smiles. Yet easy catches are dropped, run-outs missed, misfields, wides and no-balls bowled, poor decisions made and so on.
Chamara Silva came close to pulling off the most cunning heist so that there was always punch and counter punch, so that for every wicket that fell late on, a boundary was the response, cricket in perfect balance as it should be. Of course the result sets the rest of the tournament up just right. Co-hosts and favourites beaten by dark horses is a story that sells and sells.
Suddenly you look at the schedule and repercussions are discussed. The tournament has meaning. Pakistan will pop up on to a lot of people's radars and they will be talked about because this is a serious result, achieved with an unbalanced side that finds it difficult to finish off games.
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