Pakistan's innings stood out for its handling of the middle overs. Serenity blew across the ground after the fall of Kamran Akmal. Mohammad Hafeez had run himself out after a moment of madness and Kamran, who inexplicably withdrew into his shell after that mix-up, soon combusted, going for an ugly slog against Pakistan's bogeyman Rangana Herath to leave Pakistan in a tricky spot. It wasn't quite a crisis situation but it definitely needed calm heads. Luckily for Pakistan, you can't find better men than Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan to handle these moments. What followed was a perfect advertisement for the much-abused middle overs in an ODI.
Two of the oldest members of the side ran beautifully, worked the angles intelligently, pinged the gaps frequently with the nudge-drive-and-sweep routine, and breathed life into an innings that could have, perhaps otherwise, succumbed to adrenalin rushes. If Misbah pressed back to play Murali, Younis leaned forward to tackle him; If Misbah backed to leg to create room, Younis shuffled to off to work to the leg; if Misbah tapped wide of midwicket for the quick single, Younis nudged just wide of backward point; if Misbah deployed the reverse-sweep, Younis stayed conventional. They always ran well; the runs kept ticking over, the opposition grew increasingly restless, and Pakistan secured ownership of the innings.
What further spiced up this partnership was the knowledge that the imperious lower order were waiting in the dressing room. When Younis fell in the 41st over, with Pakistan on 213 for 4, it even seemed like good news for Pakistan - Shahid Afridi and co to follow, unleash violence and 300 would be a formality. Or so it seemed. Here is where Sri Lanka sparkled. Here is when that man Murali and the doughty Nuwan Kulasekara stepped in to do damage control.
Misbah responded to Murali's magic by growing more innovative. He shuffled to the off and whipped Thisara Perera and Angelo Mathews for boundaries as Pakistan collected 32 runs in the last three overs, which proved the difference in the end.