Another Hafeez century gives Pakistan series
Pakistan 226 for 2 (Hafeez 113*) beat Sri Lanka 225 (Priyanjan 74, Sangakkara 51, Ajmal 4-39, Gul 3-37) by eight wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Mohammad Hafeez became the second Pakistani after Zaheer Abbas to make three hundreds in a bilateral ODI series as his side took an unbeatable 3-1 lead over Sri Lanka. Victory was set up by Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal, who limited Sri Lanka to 225 on a docile Abu Dhabi pitch after Angelo Mathews chose to bat following two losses while chasing.
The change of strategy did not work as Sri Lanka's batting floundered, before their innings was propped up by debutant Ashan Priyanjan's first half-century and Kumar Sangakkara's 83rd. The duo revived Sri Lanka after Gul had reduced them to 36 for 3, but the innings derailed again after Sangakkara's run-out made it 125 for 4 in the 29th over.
Priyanjan hit a sparkling 74, the highest by a Sri Lanka debutant, which was laced with aggressive shots, but fell three balls into the batting Powerplay, missing an adventurous scoop to fine leg off Junaid Khan. That did it for Sri Lanka, and though Mathews and another debutant Kithuruwan Vithanage tried, Ajmal's control meant there was no late release.
Gul continued a productive comeback after a long injury layoff, dismissing the first three batsmen. Gul had little to do with the first wicket, off his fourth ball. It was a put-away delivery, short and wide, but Kusal Perera smashed it to short cover, where Misbah-ul-Haq took a sharp catch. Gul had everything to with the second wicket, though, in the fourth over. He beat Tillakaratne Dilshan on the drive with an outswinger, and then moved the next one in. Dilshan shouldered arms, and saw the ball hit the top of off stump. In the eighth over, Dinesh Chandimal could not keep a drive down, and Misbah snapped up a harder chance at short cover, one-handed this time.
With two debutant batsmen in the XI, Sri Lanka needed Sangakkara to hang around. He did that, looking in no discomfort as he picked away the singles off his pads and drove elegantly on the off side.
It was the way Priyanjan batted, though, that would have pleased Sri Lanka even more. The 24-year old was a bit nervous at the start, playing everything off the back foot. But as soon as he drove Gul through extra cover for four off his eighth ball, he was a transformed batsman. A pull and a back-foot punch made it three fours in the Gul over.
Priyanjan still continued to prefer the back foot, but played with fast hands and immense confidence for someone playing his first international game. Anything just back of a good length he was quick to go back to and cut hard, and continued to pick up boundaries even as Sangakkara, intent on batting long, slowed down, Bilawal Bhatti squeezing in a few tight overs.
The partnership was still very much in control but was to end in confusion on 89. Priyanjan responded with a flurry of boundaries, lofting and pulling the spinners as Sri Lanka cantered past 150. However, his attempt to manufacture a boundary early in the Powerplay came unstuck.
Mathews had motored to 38 when he went back to a pitched-up Ajmal offbreak and was caught plumb in front. Vithanage, batting at No. 8, swung a few to the ropes to make 27, during which he was put down twice, both difficult chances. Ajmal spun out the tail to finish with four wickets, and handed his batsmen a bright chance to seal the series with a game to spare.
Hafeez put Pakistan on course with a 38-ball fifty. He added 84 with Ahmed Shehzad, the second-wicket partnership quelling whatever hopes Sri Lanka had of putting Pakistan under early pressure.
Before Sharjeel Khan fell in the sixth over to Mathews, he and Shehzad had started with a burst of drives that gave Pakistan momentum. Hafeez built on that with a series of solid pulls and cuts that put Pakistan well ahead of the asking rate.
Shehzad guided Suranga Lakmal to slip to depart in the 16th over for 44, but Hafeez continued unhindered, even hooking Lasith Malinga for six. Shehzad was on 17 when Hafeez walked in. By the time the opener reached 35, Hafeez was already celebrating his fifty. Sri Lanka's fast bowlers kept trying the short ball even after Hafeez had gone past the landmark, and Hafeez kept cracking pull after pull.
The century came off 98 deliveries, as Hafeez and Sohaib Maqsood put on an unbroken 111 runs. Maqsood kicked on from a slow start to end on a brisk 46, but the night belonged to Hafeez, and the afternoon to the Pakistan bowlers.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo