Jayawardene powers Sri Lanka to series win
The morning may have belonged to the Akmal brothers and Pakistan, but it was all Sri Lanka in the afternoon, with an imperious century from Mahela Jayawardene central to a commanding six-wicket victory which clinched the series with two games to spare. The pursuit of 289 was made to look like child's play as Jayawardene and Upul Tharanga put on 202 for the first wicket, and not even a brief wobble thereafter could stop Sri Lanka's inexorable progress. Jayawardene's 123, his first hundred since 2007, took only 108 balls, and even cramps failed to curtail the boundary barrage as the bowlers were treated with disdain.
Jayawardene's driving down the ground, and over cover, was majestic, and any shortness in length was ruthlessly punished by the most elegant of pull shots. But for a huge leg-before shout from Shahid Afridi which he survived - the umpire suspecting a bottom edge - Jayawardene made few mistakes, finding the boundaries with elan as the bowling started to fall apart. There was even a cheeky reverse-sweep for four off Saeed Ajmal, as he cruised to his century from only 91 balls.
Tharanga had slowed after getting to his own half-century from 55 balls, content to work the ball around, but there was more than a measure of misfortune about his dismissal, with the Ajmal delivery clearly striking him outside the line of off stump. When Mahela followed, after a tired miscue to cover, Pakistan scented opportunity. And the feel-good factor increased when Thilan Samaraweera played one back to Ajmal off the leading edge.
But Sri Lanka weren't about to squander such a start. Thilina Kandamby and Kumar Sangakkara wrested the initiative back with a slew of boundaries, with Abdul Razzaq proving especially disappointing. Kandamby fell to Mohammad Aamer shortly before victory was clinched, but it was all too easy in the end.
The hard work had been done much earlier, with Tharanga and Jayawardene catching the new-ball bowlers cold. Tharanga led the way with some wonderfully fluid drives through cover, and Jayawardene soon impressed his class on proceedings with some delightful shots in the V. Razzaq could do nothing to control the runs, and when Younis Khan turned to Naved-ul-Hasan, replacing Umar Gul and playing his first match in two-and-a-half years, there was no ebb to the flow.
The pair played every shot in the book, from the paddle sweep, to the muscled heave over midwicket, but it was the drives threaded through the gaps that really caught the eye. Afridi, Pakistan's most consistent one-day bowler in recent times, was also treated with scant respect as the most imposing of platforms was built for the final surge.
Pakistan had done pretty well in that respect earlier in the day, with Umar Akmal carrying on where his brother, Kamran, left off. With Younis, Afridi, Razzaq and Naved contributing meaningful cameos, Pakistan finally had a total that could be defended.
It had started badly, with Nasir Jamshed guiding a Thilan Thushara delivery into the hands of slip, but Kamran and Younis quickly set about restoring parity. Neither Nuwan Kulasekara nor Thushara was allowed to settle, as both men picked the gaps and crashed the ball with impunity. After 56 came from the opening Powerplay, Sangakkara opted for the bustling pace of Dilhara Fernando and the medium pace of Angelo Mathews. And it was Mathews who delivered the breakthrough, tempting Kamran into one off-side flail too many. He had made 45 from 46 balls.
Shoaib Malik was undone by a superb lifter from Fernando, and when Younis succumbed to Thushara's throwing arm while risking a single to mid-on, Pakistan had slumped from 80 for 1 to 107 for 4. Fawad Alam then dawdled to 13 from 33 balls, and with Umar taking time to assess the bowlers, it was left to Afridi to inject urgency into the innings.
Both the impressive Mathews and Muttiah Muralitharan were targeted as Afridi breezed to 32 from 19 balls. But it was Murali who had the last laugh, and a few words, as Afridi missed a straighter one. And the edge on the feel then intensified as Umar moved up a gear, smacking four and a huge straight six off Murali after compiling a maiden half-century from just 59 balls. Murali got his man, going for an encore and though more sweet nothings were exchanged, this was one tussle that the spin maestro hadn't won.
Thanks to Jayawardene and Tharanga though, Sri Lanka won the only contest that mattered.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo