Afridi stars in comprehensive win
Pakistan will want to take the Premadasa Stadium with them wherever they go. After groping in the dark for the better part of the tour, they finally struck gold when they landed here for the last two one-dayers and tonight they signed off in style with a comprehensive 52-run win in the one-off Twenty20 game. It was touted as a rematch of the World Twenty20 final in June but Sri Lanka failed to even the score. Their nemesis at Lord's - Shahid Afridi - stood in their way again with an exact 50, a tight spell and a run-out on his debut as Pakistan captain.
Though Afridi deserved a large portion of credit, the win was sealed by a collective effort from his team. After losing a wicket off the first ball, Imran Nazir gave the early impetus with an aggressive 40, Umar Akmal and Afridi put on a steady 66 in the middle overs and Naved-ul-Hasan and Saeed Ajmal derailed Sri Lanka's chase.
Pakistan's strategy was clear from the outset - step out and whack. The difficulties the home batsmen faced under lights in the two ODIs didn't deter Pakistan's top order as they regularly went down the track to smother the slightest hint of seam movement. Kamran Akmal's first-ball dismissal turned out to be no more than a scare as Pakistan stuck to their gameplan.
Afridi wasn't very convincing at the start of his innings, slashing and swishing at deliveries far too early. He also survived a very confident shout for lbw off Muttiah Muralitharan, with the ball appearing to turn enough to clip the leg stump. As he got his eye in, though, the shots flew off his bat. He chipped down the track to Murali and carved them inside out over extra cover but the shot of the evening was a stylish one-legged whip off Malinga that cleared the deep midwicket boundary.
There was a bit of drama in between when he claimed an overthrow after the throw from Mahela Jayawardene deflected off his body. Tempers flared for a few seconds but, unlike what happened between Younis Khan and Kumar Sangakkara in the fifth ODI, the issue was quickly settled.
Umar too carried on from where he left off in the one-dayers, using his feet to clear the infield. His stand with Afridi yielded 66 in a little more than seven overs but he fell off a tame top edge while attempting a cheeky paddle off Angelo Mathews.
Afridi fell shortly after getting to his third consecutive fifty in Twenty20s, failing to clear Kulasekara at long-off. Abdul Razzaq then finished the innings with a cameo and Pakistan appeared at that stage that they had enough to push the Sri Lankans once more.
Sanath Jayasuriya and Mahela Udawatte began the chase at a rate of nearly ten an over. Jayasuriya entertained in typical fashion with his trademark flicks but failed to put away a short delivery off Mohammad Aamer, miscuing him to fine leg. Udawatte failed to make the most of his recall, trapped lbw off Naved-ul-Hasan though he was a trifle unlucky as the ball pitched fractionally outside leg.
The middle order's failure to contribute hurt them once more. Sangakkara and Jayawardene entertained, albeit briefly, with almost nonchalant shots over the ropes but they failed to put together that one big partnership to nail the chase. The pressure was on because the boundaries were few and far between. Sri Lanka managed just six fours, while Pakistan hit 19.
Afridi rushed through his overs, denying the batsmen too much room. When Jayawardene backed away to push the ball into the gaps, Afridi slipped in the googly and cramped him up. He conceded 21 runs and bagged the wicket of Chamara Kapugedera, well caught at midwicket by Naved.
The most incisive bowler was Ajmal, who bagged three wickets. In contrast to Afridi, he was much slower through the air, making the batsmen reach out for their strokes. Their attempts to take out their frustrations on him led to tame dismissals, like Sangakkara's, sweeping against the turn.
With the specialists gone, Sri Lanka's last hopes rested on Angelo Mathews but he too was sent scampering back by a direct hit from Afridi.
In the end, Sri Lanka's defeat will be analysed through one critical statistic. While Pakistan's fourth wicket added 66, Sri Lanka's last eight managed only 49.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo