Afridi made the difference - Hafeez
Mohammad Hafeez, the Pakistan Twenty20 captain, said he was always confident his bowlers would be able to defend any target on a Hambantota pitch that tested batsmen for the second time in three days. Pakistan had managed only 122 after winning the toss but squared the two-match series by keeping Sri Lanka to 99. Mahela Jayawardene, who rested himself, said the defeat gave his batsmen a taste of what to expect in similar conditions when the World Twenty20 gets underway in Sri Lanka.
The Pakistan batsmen battled similar problems from their defeat in the first game, playing out a high percentage of dot balls and losing early wickets. When Hafeez departed in the 11th over, Pakistan were limping at 41 for 4 but a fighting partnership of 68 between Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik proved to be the turning point. Afridi remained unbeaten on 52 and later took two wickets to give Pakistan the edge in the chase.
"I don't think the toss had decided the game. The innings Shahid Afridi played was the difference," Hafeez said after his first victory as captain. "He took us to a fighting target. I was always confident of defending 123, especially with our bowling attack. It was a blessing for me having so many wicket-taking bowlers like Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal. Sohail Tanvir was in good form too coming into this game. I always knew that as long as we put in a good fielding effort, we could certainly defend this score."
Hafeez also praised the improvement in his team's catching. "We took our chances. Sri Lanka also dropped a couple but we too made similar mistakes in the first game," Hafeez said. "It was a complete team effort and everyone was keen to win the game."
Pakistan dropped Umar Gul - who was expensive in the first match - and brought in Yasir Arafat, who responded with 3 for 18. Mohammad Sami was retained despite a poor spell in his comeback match but compensated with 3 for 16, extracting good pace and bounce on a slow pitch.
"Sami showed great character today to bounce back from a disappointing start in his comeback game," Hafeez said. "I had mentioned earlier that this is part of a new outlook by the team where if some players are making a comeback, it's crucial to give them confidence. The coach and myself gave him that confidence and he delivered."
Sri Lanka used the game to experiment with the batting line-up, and with Jayawardene resting, Angelo Mathews took over the captaincy. The batsmen couldn't find a way out of the pressure created by the Pakistan bowlers and some perished due to poor shot selection. Jayawardene said it was healthy in the long run that the batsmen were challenged.
"It was a good toss to lose in the sense that we got a chance to bat second and see how difficult it was. It was good match practice, we managed to give opportunities for a few players who have done well. It's healthy for us knowing we have more options going into the World Cup."
Jayawardene also backed the decision to promote Nuwan Kulasekara to No. 3. "If you're chasing a small total, it's good to get 15-20 quick runs upfront, especially when the ball is moving a bit. It's a tough ask for a bowler (Kulasekara) to do it. It's a sacrifice you have to make, sending a bowler up (the order) than getting a batsman to do it. These are things we will try and see if it works going forward."
Jayawardene said there was room for improvement when playing Afridi. "We should have played him a bit more sensibly, rotated the strike more. Our shot selection wasn't great at the end. I thought till the 13th over, we were pretty much in control, but played two overs for two runs and lost wickets after that."
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo