Kusal record fifty wins tough chase
Sri Lanka 288 for 8 (Kusal 68, Chandimal 48*, Rahat 3-73) beat Pakistan 287 for 8 (Azhar 79, Rizwan 52, Malik 51) by two wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
It was the tale of two lefties in Pallekele. Kusal Perera hammered Sri Lanka's joint fastest fifty in ODIs, which made a target of 288 look like a cakewalk. But when Pakistan's tenacity brought them back and put the game on a razor's edge - 92 runs needed off 112 balls with only four wickets left - debutant Sachith Pathirana produced a decisive cameo -33 off 28 - to help the hosts square the series with an action-packed two-wicket victory.
Sri Lanka have lately struggled to find batsmen down the order who can handle the pressure of a chase, or that of a top-order collapse. From his first impression, Pathirana seems a good bet. Although known more for his ability with the ball, hence his batting position at No. 8, he displayed excellent mettle under fire.
Pathirana allowed himself a few balls to get used to the pitch, and the wisdom of that decision became apparent very soon. From 4 off 11, he produced a smart late cut to shift gears. He smashed anything short either side of the pitch, and was even able to pick Yasir Shah's googlies. One of those shots was calmly lofted over mid-off's head. It must have helped though that he had a very composed Dinesh Chandimal for company, as the pair added 52 runs off 49 balls.
Pakistan deserve credit for finding their senses after Kusal bashed them silly. He reached his half-century off 17 balls, filled with pick-up shots over the leg side very much like the one who's record he equaled, Sanath Jayasuriya.
Mohammad Irfan's extra bounce posed little threat; Kusal's smashed him at a strike-rate of 242.85. Kusal v Rahat Ali was another no-contest as well - 26 runs off eight balls. Even Mohammad Hafeez, with his penchant for dismissing left-handers, was carted around at a strike rate of 242.85. Kusal faced Anwar Ali for only three balls, but it included a flat, hard, vicious six over square leg. The innings lasted only 25 deliveries, but yielded 68 runs. By the time he creamed one of the bevy of length balls that Pakistan paraded for him down the throat of deep square leg, Sri Lanka were 92 for 1 in the ninth over. At the same time, the visitors had been 27 for 0. Slow and steady does have a history of winning the race, but it was the hare's day today.
The tortoise, of course, did not throw it away. Even with three runs required off 18 balls, Anwar got a leading edge from Thisara Perera to settle in point's hands. But as that was happening, Chandimal had made sure to cross. Chandimal, who had produced a fine half-century four days ago but ended up on the losing side, did not want to feel that disappointment again. He struck 48 off 63 balls and was there until the end, as per his new role as a finisher, and sealed the third-highest chase in Sri Lanka.
The fortunes of both teams changed frequently and somewhat drastically. Pakistan won a good toss, but their top order was not allowed to capitalise because Sri Lanka's bowlers were extremely tight. At one point Angelo Mathews, who trusted himself to take the new ball and bowl in the death, strung 24 dot balls in a five-overs spell. But the other bowlers could not maintain their levels through the innings and Pakistan took advantage of that - 88 runs in the last 10 overs. There were also several catches dropped - Pathirana dropped two in the space of four balls - and umpteen misfields - Nuwan Pradeep on the boundary was a terrible liability. Those lapses contributed to Pakistan getting off the hook.
Azhar Ali had laid the foundation with his fifth fifty-plus score in eight ODIs. He was 8 off 23 balls, but got going with a well thought-out loft over long-on. Singles and twos fed his innings until a less clever swipe towards cow corner cost him his wicket for 79 off 104 balls.
That's when Shoaib Malik took over with a run-a-ball fifty. With his experience, he was quick to assess the Pallekele pitch was rather slow. Brute force only worked against the bad balls, so until they came, Malik used the spinners' pace to pick his gaps. Fifteen runs were collected behind point, and 26 more belted into the leg side. Finally Mohammad Rizwan hit 52 off 38 balls, and pasted Lastith Malinga around for 20 runs in the 47th over to leave Pakistan with an excellent chance to extend the lead they had coming into this game. As it stands, Sri Lanka have squared it 1-1.
Although not without huffing and puffing. They lost four middle order wickets for only 19 runs, and a lot of them were ugly. Upul Tharanga was caught napping by an indipper from Rahat. Tillakaratne Dilshan dragged on for 47 off 63, Angelo Mathews called for a single and was halfway down the pitch before he realised Lahiru Thirimanne was not interested. The Sri Lanka captain could do little more than just give up. Then Thirimanne added to the slide by slicing a catch to deep third man. Pakistan became favourites at this point. But they had not accounted for Chandimal's resilience.
With the required rate always at manageable levels, Chandimal understood that the key to Sri Lanka's victory was for him to stick around. And so he did. Thirty-two of his 43 runs came from singles. He did not let the pressure suck him into the big shot. Nor did he let the occasion of Sri Lanka's victory suck him into a glory shot. It was a delicate little glance to long leg and up came the arms and out came a roar. It would seem that Chandimal had decided to mature.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo