Aamer and Naved earn Pakistan easy consolation win
A hostile Mohammad Aamer and an inconsistent-but-smart Naved-ul-Hasan sent Sri Lanka crashing to what was very nearly their worst-ever ODI defeat at home. Naved earlier gave Pakistan's total a boost with hefty hitting in the final overs, after Pakistan had threatened to let half-centuries from Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq go to waste. Sri Lanka however, took the series having already won the first three matches.
This was also the 10th straight time that a side batting first won at the R Premadasa Stadium. It can't be ascertained if it was just the conditions, but the Pakistan pace bowlers were way better than their Sri Lankan counterparts. Aamer and Naved got more movement, and demonstrated better control and variation.
Aamer set the agenda with the first ball, a brute that injured Upul Tharanga's middle finger. Even if the finger wasn't broken, the spirit was as he played and missed at an away-swinger next. The third ball, short and climbing into Tharanga, duly produced the edge. Even before the returning Sanath Jayasuriya could cause any damage, Naved flummoxed him with a superb slower delivery, putting the onus squarely on Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.
They added 35 in 37 deliveries, targeting Naved, before the veteran bowler fooled Sangakkara too with a slower one. Even before Sri Lanka could recover from that blow, Jayawardene edged an angling delivery from Aamer, finishing the match - at 58 for 4 - for all practical purposes.
Aamer and Naved, though, proceeded to take out whatever life remained in the contest. Aamer did away with Chamara Kapugedera and Angelo Mathews in his next two overs, while Naved came back to take out Nuwan Kaulasekara and Dammika Prasad. Kulasekara's dismissal was a splendid effort by Misbah, diving forward at first slip, giving him his third catch of the innings. Aamer finished with a career-best effort and Naved reached 100 wickets in ODIs.
Thilina Kandamby and Malinga Bandara delayed the inevitable, but the record for the highest successful chase at the Premadasa Stadium never really came under threat. That Pakistan got to that total was largely due to the responsible fifties from Younis and Misbah.
After an 83-run stand between Younis and Misbah for the fourth wicket, Pakistan lost three quick wickets, making them reassess the total they aimed for, but Naved's late hitting made sure they felt confident going into the defence.
Throughout their disastrous tour Younis has spoken about the importance of partnerships. Today he was involved in three valuable ones. The first one started after the first ball of the match, when umpire Gamini Silva welcomed back Nuwan Kulasekara by missing a thick inside edge from Kamran Akmal, and giving Sri Lanka a bonus wicket.
Younis was sedate to begin with, enjoying a ferocious start from Iman Nazir from the other end. Nazir, playing his second match since his comeback from the ICL, raced to 35 from 21 balls in the first seven overs, as Prasad's first three overs went for 30. Sangakkara then took a gamble, bringing on Mendis in the eighth over. The Pakistan batsmen have been exceptional in playing Mendis, looking to play him straight as often as possible, but Nazir went to turn the second ball he faced from him to midwicket, paying the price as he was trapped plumb in front.
Younis found the perfect partner in Mohammad Yousuf, who did the majority of the scoring in the 68-run third-wicket partnership. But by the time Yousuf fell for 43, Younis looked set to convert the slow start.
Younis, 13 off 39 at one stage, had started accelerating and along with Misbah, who also started fluently, Younis threatened to take Pakistan past 300. It was a typical Younis knock - a slow start, an increase in the number of singles and doubles in the middle portions, and only a few boundaries. Without a flurry of hits to the fence, Younis got 37 off the next 32 balls he faced, to reach his second fifty in a row.
If Younis was playing an ideal middle-order ODI innings, Misbah at the other end started to mirror him, rotating the strike with ease. His first boundary came off the 25th ball, but he had reached 19 by then. He looked to dominate against the spinners, Jayasuriya and Bandara, getting three boundaries, and by the time the ball was changed after 34 overs, Pakistan had reached 186 for 3. With the slightly newer ball, Sangakkara brought back Prasad.
Younis' fall to a yorker from Prasad was followed by two more quick wickets, at which point Misbah took control and set himself to bat through the innings. He got good support from Naved, who hit two huge sixes and a boundary in the batting Powerplay, also the last five overs of the innings. Naved scored 33 off 29, Pakistan got 46 in the last five, and Misbah finished with an unbeaten 73.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo