Pakistan ease to series victory
Pakistan, with the new, facially-hirsute Mohammad Yousuf leading the way, bounced back from an Indian thumping, to beat Sri Lanka with some comfort by four wickets and wrap up an impressive one-day series win. Although Yousuf's untroubled 53 - his 48th ODI fifty - saw them to within touching distance, Pakistan's upper-order had earlier shrugged aside their recent flimsiness to set up the platform for the win.
Until this match, Pakistan's top-order had displayed all the solidity of jello in recent contests; since the first ODI against India last month, they had managed 'starts' of 68 for 4, 82 for 4, 97 for 5 and more recently, in Sri Lanka 54 for 3 and 47 for 5. They re-jigged the order today, bringing in Imran Farhat in place of Salman Butt, moving Shoaib Malik up to open and Younis Khan - in the most democratic decision in Pakistan given the level of public support - to one-down.
The tinkering seemed to have paid off as initially Malik, adapting to yet another role in his versatile career, set the early pace with a blistering 38-ball 46. Both Lasith Malinga and Farvez Maharoof, splendidly spot-on through the series, struggled to locate the right line and length for this pitch and Malik took shameless advantage. He began in the second over, with a nervous scythe over point for four, followed it with a deliciously checked straight drive and didn't look back thereafter.
He took a particular liking to Dammika Prasad's medium-pace, friendly enough to be flirtatious, punishing him as he strayed regularly on to his pads. Such was the scoring that Muttiah Muralitharan, wicketless so far in the series, was brought on as early as the ninth over and with immediate effect. Malik took ten runs off the first three balls before driving to cover off the fourth, but Pakistan were away, a rare fifty-plus opening stand to the good and a run-rate to make the rest of the chase relatively comfortable.
Imran Farhat, smartly subdued in Malik's slipstream till then, took over. Despite Muralitharan's presence, he sustained momentum, using his feet to hit boundaries square and straight. Jayawardene changed his bowlers round with little luck; Malinga, Murali and Lokuarachchi all came and went for plenty runs. And then, just as his inclusion ahead of Butt was looking justified, not for the first time Farhat inexplicably lost his cool charging down to Dilshan four short of a well-deserved fifty.
And although Pakistan lost wickets at fairly regular intervals - Younis Khan and Inzamam-ul-Haq both fell to shots off Muralitharan that should be charitably described as awful - Yousuf's delicately nuanced knock made Sri Lanka's total seem rightly inadequate. That it ultimately proved a meagre target was due in large part to methods the hosts would have been only too familiar with.
Imitation can be various forms of flattery - sincere, cheap, and ultimate - but in Pakistan's deployment of Sri Lanka's famed middle overs choke, it was mostly just effective. The tools were different; where a horde of screeching, screaming Sri Lankan spinners came into play after the new ball, Pakistan used the bustle of Shahid Afridi and the quiet cunning of Abdul Razzaq. Until Afridi came on in the 21st over, the hosts were floating serenely. Upal Tharanga and Chamara Kapugedera had provided a 57-run start, low on frills, high on effectiveness. Despite the loss of the former, Sri Lanka found themselves at 86 for 1 after 20 overs.
Kapugedera was looking particularly forceful, wearing the gung-ho conviction of a neoconservative. Like wars fought irrespective of whether or not there is justification, Kapugedera drove balls with no regard for length or line. Short of length, as Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and Rao Iftikhar both found, were driven on the up and generally lofted and fuller, as Asif discovered, driven traditionally along the ground and through cover. But having reached a fifty (maiden for him and this series), he was run out immediately after coincidentally in Afridi's second over, sold short by Kumar Sangakkara. That sparked off the strangle.
Afridi then did what he often does on slow pitches, bowling his full quota straight through. He harried batsmen with wrong `uns, off-spinners, faster balls, all bowled so relentlessly that he gave batsmen no time to think let alone play strokes. He got grip, spin and bounce and three key middle order wickets. Razzaq's was medium-pace asphyxiation, varying his pace, length and lines but never his frugality and as the fielders fielders gradually woke up from the clumsy inertia that gripped them in the morning, Pakistan stepped back into the game.
Tillakaratne Dilshan eventually bailed out Sri Lanka, not for the first time in this series, and ensured Jayawardene had at least a competitive total to play with. His 44-run cameo, initially dogged, latterly delightful, enabled Sri Lanka to eke out 224 from when he had walked in, at the nervy realms of 133 for 5, with 15 overs still to go. The poor timing of his dismissal, and that of Maharoof's earlier, was emblematic of Sri Lanka's batsmen; although there is rarely a good time to lose a wicket, Sri Lanka today picked the worst possible time every time.
Qualification for the Champions Trophy ensured and an overseas ODI victory secured, Pakistan will already be shedding the ODI result against India from their memories. As will India of course, albeit for vastly differing reasons.
Upal Tharanga c Akmal b Razzaq 23 (57 for 1)
Chasing one that angled and swung away, Akmal dives to left to take a good, low catch
Chamara Kapugedera run out Younis/Afridi 50 (93-2)
Runs too far down from non-strikers' end as ball played out to point and not able to return in time
Kumara Sangakkara c Akmal b Afridi 22 (105-3)
Egded a wide wrong `un going wider, good catch
KS Lokuarachchi c Yousuf b Afridi 13 (131-4)
Sweeping in frustration straight to deep midwicket
Russell Arnold st Akmal b Afridi 0 (133-5)
Overbalanced a little stepping out, quick work by Akmal
Mahela Jayawardene run out Younis 31 (156-6)
Risky run straight to cover, clean pick up and direct hit finds him inches short
Farvez Maharoof c Farhat b Asif 19 (193-7)
Skied a clever slower ball to long on
Tilekeratne Dilshan b Malik 44 (216-8)
Bowled pulling an off-spinner
Muttiah Muralitharan c Iftikhar b Rana 2 (224-9)
Slogged a slower ball to deep midwicket for a well-judged running catch
Lasith Malinga b Rana 0 (224-10)
Missed a slower, straight ball
Shoaib Malik c Kapugedera b Muralitharan 46 (61-1)
Dancing down, mistimes a drive to cover
Imran Farhat st Sangakkara b Dilshan 46 (117-2)
Unneccesarily stepping out to slog, beaten by turn
Younis Khan st Sangakkara b Muralitharan 25 (137-3)
Horribly deceived by doosra charging out
Inzamam-ul-Haq b Muralitharan 12 (177-4)
Sweeping the wrong length, bowled round his legs
Mohammad Yousuf lbw Maharoof 53 (207-5)
Plumb in front to one that swung in late
Shahid Afridi c Muralitharan b Lokuarachchi 1 (210-6)
Skies a slog sweep to square leg
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo