Pakistan pull it off as Razzaq treads the razor's edge
Backed into the corner by the late withdrawal of Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif, Pakistan showed incredible self-belief and no little skill to pull off a splendid four-wicket victory over Sri Lanka in the first high-quality match of this Champions Trophy. Sensational allround performances from Abdul Razzaq and Shoaib Malik inspired them, after Sri Lanka's spin duo had threatened to tilt the game their way. But Razzaq, such a clean striker of the ball when in the mood, just wasn't to be denied, on a night that Pakistan cricket aficionados will cherish for a long time to come.
When Razzaq, who had earlier taken 4 for 50, came to the middle, Pakistan needed 53 more, with just 47 balls remaining. By the time he thumped Dilhara Fernando for a massive six over long-off to finish matters, 11 balls remained. In the excitement created by his booming strokeplay, Shoaib Malik's role was nearly forgotten, but his 59-ball 46 was just as crucial after Pakistan appeared to lose their way in mid-innings.
Imran Farhat had ensured that Pakistan got an ideal start, with a glorious off-drive and an even better one straight down the ground as Sri Lanka were put under pressure from the off. With Mohammad Hafeez also stroking some lovely shots, even the usually impeccable Chaminda Vaas was made to look wayward as Pakistan rattled along at nearly seven an over.
A superb catch from Kumar Sangakkara standing up to Vaas stemmed that initial tide, but Farhat continued to drive and pull with impunity after Mahela Jayawardene dropped him at first slip when he had made just 25. Fernando was not amused and his anguish was exacerbated when Farhat unveiled a superb off-drive after surviving a huge leg-before shout.
Jayawardene then threw the ball to Farveez Maharoof, who had figures of 6 for 14 in his last outing, and he struck with his very first delivery, abetted by a poor shot from Younis Khan. That brought in Mohammad Yousuf, in such imperious form of late, and he was quickly into his stride despite being struck flush on the helmet by Fernando.
Farhat continued to flay some supreme strokes through the covers, getting to 50 from 58 balls, but a reckless charge at Muttiah Muralitharan tilted the balance of the game Sri Lanka's way. That feeling was re-emphasised when the gamble to promote Shahid Afridi failed. Having survived two very good shouts from Muralitharan, his Banzai charge at Sanath Jayasuriya went sky-high but only as far as Upul Tharanga.
The pitch wasn't getting any easier, and having held back the third Power Play, Jayawardene opted for it in the 24th over. He also changed his bowlers round frequently, making it hard for the batsmen to settle, and the five-over stretch produce only 22 runs as the Sri Lankans started to tighten their grip.
Yousuf played some lovely drives and deflected the ball cleverly behind square as he and Shoaib Malik set about whittling down the target. A run-a-ball was needed when the sort of mix-up that he has habitually been part of cost him a richly deserved 50. Lasith Malinga redeemed himself after a misfield, and with Malik having turned his back on a third, Yousuf was stranded.
But the drama still wasn't over. With a thick layer of dew on the outfield, Malik and Kamran Akmal added 40 to set up a final charge. Having played himself in carefully, Malik then illustrated his big-hitting prowess with a huge six over midwicket off Muralitharan, but when Akmal fell trying to pull off a big hit of his own, the pendulum swung back Sri Lanka's way.
Razzaq had made just five, with 39 more needed, when Tillakaratne Dilshan spilled a tough chance at point off Vaas, and Sri Lanka were made to pay the ultimate price. Seven came from a Malinga over, and when Razzaq thumped Vaas down to the sightscreen, the asking-rate was back down to a run-a-ball. From there, it was a formality, with a delicious straight-drive off Malinga that precursor to that thrilling final loft.
Sri Lanka themselves had started like a runaway train, with Jayasuriya the locomotive. Two cover-drives set the tone, and after a relatively sedate six overs, he trained his marauder's eye on Rana Naved-ul-Hasan. A superb drive signalled intent, and when Rana overstepped, he adjusted his stroke nonchalantly to send the ball soaring into the stands behind backward square leg. A swivel-pull for four later, Rana was banished to the outfield, never to return. The next over from Rao Iftikhar went for 15, including one superb straight six, and by the time the bowler got his revenge, knocking out leg stump as Jayasuriya aimed over midwicket, he had rattled off 48 from 35 balls.
Umar Gul, who replaced Rana, was unfortunate as Tharanga edged one between Kamran Akmal and first slip, and with Jayasuriya gone, Tharanga took on the mantle with a superb pull and some fine strokes past the off-side cordon.
Jayawardene played himself in unhurriedly, and an emphatic thump over cover for four took him to 6000 runs in one-day cricket. The partnership produced 45 in even time before Tharanga's adventurous streak got the better of him. After taking Razzaq for two successive fours, he attempted a third, and managed only a thick edge behind.
That didn't ease the scoring though, with Sangakkara coming in and playing two glorious square-drives and one disdainful pull for four off a wayward Razzaq. Malik got Jayawardene to a miscued paddle sweep, forcing Sangakkara and Marvan Atapattu to be more cautious against the spinners. But when opportunity presented itself, Sangakkara took full toll, stroking Malik for two fours as the run-rate stayed well over five.
The momentum dropped with his dismissal for 39, casually lofting one to long-off, and when Dilshan chopped one on, Pakistan had the opening they needed. Afridi's changes of pace and turn kept the batsmen largely quiet, and Malik too put the ball on a spot to apply the brakes. Atapattu and Maharoof eventually added 36 before a dazzling piece of fielding from Hafeez, who had just dropped Maharoof off his own bowling, sent back Atapattu.
The tail was then mopped up ruthlessly by Razzaq, who came back with renewed vigour after being carted for 28 in his first three overs. Vaas's late cameo lifted the total past 250, but it wasn't enough against a Pakistan team that once again proved that adversity brings out their combative instincts quite like nothing else.
Sanath Jayasuriya b Rao 48 (63 for 1)
Heave against the line, leg stump uprooted
Upul Tharanga c Akmal b Razzaq 38 (108 for 2)
Edges behind after a loose flail
Mahela Jayawardene c Farhat b Malik 31 (141 for 3)
Top-edged a paddle sweep to short fine leg
Kumar Sangakkara c Rao b Malik 39 (181 for 4)
Lofted one to long-off, well-caught moving forward
Tillakaratne Dilshan b Afridi 3 (186 for 5)
Chops one on while going for the cut
Marvan Atapattu run out (Hafeez) 36 (225 for 6)
Thought about a run, sent back, caught short by superb underarm throw
Farveez Maharoof b Razzaq 22 (236 for 7)
Clean bowled going for a wild slog
Muttiah Muralitharan lbw Hafeez 0 (239 for 8)
Trapped in front going for the sweep
Lasith Malinga b Razzaq 0 (240 for 9)
Bowled playing a nothing shot
Chaminda Vaas b Razzaq 15 (253 all out)
Bowled trying to hit across the line
Mohammad Hafeez c Sangakkara b Vaas 22 (39 for 1)
Angled away, a thin edge through to the keeper, who was standing up
Younis Khan c Sangakkara b Maharoof 7 (71 for 2)
Hint of away movement, steered straight to the keeper
Imran Farhat c Fernando b Muralitharan 53 (104 for 3)
Charged down the track and miscued one to long-off
Shahid Afridi c Tharanga b Jayasuriya 1 (114 for 4)
Charged down the track and skied one, caught on the run from long-off
Mohammad Yousuf run out (Malinga) 49 (161 for 5)
Sent back after going for a third run from a misfield at square leg
Kamran Akmal c Maharoof b Vaas 20 (201 for 6)
Lofted pull superbly caught on the run at deep midwicket
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo