Sri Lanka maul Pakistan to win series
It was over before the thousands of fans at the Gaddafi Stadium could blink. Sri Lanka inflicted one of the biggest annihilations in one-day internationals and trampled over Pakistan to post a 234-run win and take the series 2-1. It was the hosts' largest margin of defeat in ODIs: they were dismissed for 75 in reply to Sri Lanka's 309.
Sri Lanka's struggles against weak sides in recent months seemed a distant memory after the rout. The victory brought back memories of the time their bowlers dismantled India for 54 at Sharjah in 2000, after the batsmen had posted 299. They were not favourites to win this series, primarily due to an out-of-form top order, but the batsmen collectively shrugged off their poor form. Tillakaratne Dilshan set it up with a mature 137, Jayasuriya contributed 45, and Sangakkara made 50.
However, it was the speed at which the new-ball attack scythed through Pakistan that startled. Nuwan Kulasekara and Thilan Thushara used swing and seam movement to make up for the lack of express-pace and proved too difficult to handle for Pakistan's batsmen. Six Pakistan wickets fell before the tenth over, putting an end to the contest.
The conditions were predicted to favour the fast bowlers at the start of play but they got deadlier when Sri Lanka began bowling under lights. Thushara struck in the second over, trapping make-shift opener Younis Khan lbw, before Kulasekara found Salman Butt's edge to hand him a first-ball duck. It got worse for Pakistan when Kamran Akmal was caught in front by a Thushara delivery which cut in, skidded, and hit him low on the pads. The inspired bowling was backed up by superb fielding: Farveez Maharoof pulled off a blinder at short wicket, intercepting a full-blooded pull from Khurram Manzoor.
Even Misbah-ul-Haq had no answers to a delivery from Thushara and he edged to the wicketkeeper. Shahid Afridi fell four balls later, shouldering arms to a delivery that jagged back and had his off-stump flattened. Sections of the crowd that had cheered his entrance moments before began to leave.
Umar Gul walked in and began to time the ball through the gaps on the off side like a genuine batsman while Shoaib Malik stood helpless at the other end. Pakistan were 22 for 6 with no hope of recovery. The spinners wrapped up the tail and Muttiah Muralitharan picked up the final wicket, bowling Sohail Khan, to become the second bowler after Wasim Akram to take 500 ODI wickets. Pakistan's total of 75 was their lowest at home.
The spectacular nature of Pakistan's collapse, however, should not overshadow Dilshan's outstanding contribution earlier in the day. Sri Lanka continued their experiment of opening with him and Dilshan battled through overcast conditions to compile his career-best score. He was circumspect initially against the fast bowlers and was dropped on 1 by Salman Butt at backward point before realizing that a grafting approach was the need of the day.
He paddled and nudged, occasionally playing the fierce cut, and only after his hundred - his second in ODIs - did he open up. He slammed length deliveries and made room to carve the fuller ones over the off side. Pakistan's spinners gave him width and they paid for it.
Sri Lanka's innings was built on partnerships and each one took the game further away from Pakistan. Malik pushed the field back, opening up gaps in the outfield, and allowed the batsmen to progress. Steadily, Sri Lanka built towards the target Mahela Jayawardene had aimed for before the start of the game.
The contributions from Sangakkara and Thilina Kandamby were significant as well. Sangakkara swept the spinners and tapped the ball into gaps on the off side to take singles. His approach brought back memories of Arjuna Ranatunga and his 104-run partnership with Dilshan came at a run-a-ball. Sangakkara and Dilshan ran swiftly between the wickets but a moment of confusion over a risky single resulted in Sangakkara's wicket.
Dilshan, however, did not let the setback affect him and he added 57 more with Kandamby. His century was his second important contribution of the series, after the 76 in the second ODI in Karachi, and he was adjudged Man of the Series for scoring 255 runs in the three matches.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo