Dilshan and Muralitharan lead 129-run rout
Sri Lanka levelled the series 1-1 with a crushing win, thanks to a convincing all-round performance in Karachi. Tillakaratne Dilshan hit a sparkling half-century to take Sri Lanka to a strong total, before Nuwan Kulasekara and Muttiah Muralitharan shot out the hosts cheaply. Salman Butt and Shoaib Malik resisted with a 108-run partnership, but Muralitharan removed Malik to trigger a stunning collapse.
Sri Lanka were much more disciplined today. Though they contrived to let slip dominant positions more than once, they had the players to retrieve the situation and help them tide over the various mini-crises. The attacking Dilshan made good for Sanath Jayasuriya's hit-wicket dismissal and Kumar Sangakkara's suicidal run-out. And after Dilshan's exit, Thilina Kandamby - who replaced Jehan Mubarak from the XI in the first ODI - took charge of the run-making, allowing out-of-form captain Mahela Jayawardene to find his bearings. The strong point for the visitors was that even after the soft dismissals of Kandamby, Jayawardene and Chamara Kapugedera, they didn't disintegrate in the final overs.
During the chase, Muralitharan got into the act after Butt and Malik threatened a matchwinning partnership. Muralitharan, brought into the attack in the 22nd over, struck the vital blow in his second over, removing Malik with a doosra that spun and bounced to get the edge. Butt fell tamely to Jayasuriya, chipping a leading edge to Jayawardene at cover in the next over, giving the Sri Lankan captain the record for most number of catches in ODIs. Thereafter, Sri Lanka ran amok - the lower half surrendered limply against Muralitharan and Mendis, just as the top order had floundered against Kulasekara.
Kulasekara, Sri Lanka's Ifthikhar Anjum, looks steady and unglamorous but he knows his role in the team and is aware of his limited craft. Unlike Anjum, whose main delivery is the away-going one, Kulasekara's chief wicket-taking ball is the incutter, with which he picked up two quick wickets.
Khurram Manzoor was trapped leg before in front of the off stump and Younis Khan dragged one on to middle. And when Thilan Thushara had Misbah-ul-Haq caught behind, it appeared that the chase was going to finish even before it began.
Sri Lanka's much-improved batting performance was largely due to Dilshan, who kickstarted the team's charge with a signature innings, attempting and pulling off some audacious strokes early. The third ball of the day, from Shoaib Akhtar, was a legcutter that moved away from off stump but Dilshan tried a flamboyant flick over midwicket and was comprehensively beaten. On another day, he might have got an edge and his shot selection would have come under the scanner. Not today, though.
When the strokes came off, they looked spectacular. He swung Shoaib over midwicket off a free-hit, survived a close shout for lbw before unfurling a couple of pulls and a cut against the same bowler. Shoaib leaked four fours in his second over and was taken out of the attack. Dilshan, however, continued stylishly against the other bowlers. He cheekily lapped a short-of-a-length delivery on middle and leg from Iftikhar Anjum over the short fine-leg fielder and lashed a full delivery over point with panache.
However, Sri Lanka's season of self-created agony continued to haunt them. Jayasuriya was out hit wicket for the first time in his 426-ODI career and Sangakkara ran himself out. It would have been worse for Sri Lanka had Kamran Akmal not given more ammunition to his critics. Kandamby stabbed a Shahid Afridi slider on 16 but Akmal dropped it, following which he went on to pick his singles and twos calmly to keep the score moving. Akmal later sought redemption with a sharp, low catch to his right to get rid of Jayawardene.
Kapugedara controlled the death overs, giving Sri Lanka enough runs to coast to a comfortable win and ensuring that the last match of the series, in Lahore on Saturday, is the series decider.
Pakistan were also fined for maintaining a slow over-rate during the match. Chris Broad, the match referee, imposed the fines after the hosts were ruled to be two overs short of the target when time allowances were taken into consideration. In accordance with the ICC Code of Conduct regulations, Shoaib Malik was fined 20% of his match fee while the other players earned 10% fines.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo