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September 17, 2007
Considering the way the two teams had played so far, not many would have given Pakistan much of a chance against a rampant Sri Lankan side, but certain teams, it would appear, prefer some match-ups to others. Mahela Jayawardene denied at the post-match chat with the media that his team had any specific problems against this opposition, but for Pakistan, Sri Lanka is clearly a good team to play against - there has been a pattern to the one-dayers between the two sides of late.
This match - even if the version of the game was different - followed that trend. The most glaring aspect was the manner in which Sanath Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka's most influential player in the short versions of the game, was neutralised completely.
Every batsman is allowed a few failures, especially in a format which requires such frenetic hitting from the start, but Jayasuriya has consistently struggled against Pakistan, averaging 20.50 in his last ten ODIs against them. Even more surprising, though, was the manner in which his usually reliable flat left-arm spin was carted all over the place.
Much of the credit for that must go to an exceptional fourth-wicket partnership between Younis Khan and Shoaib Malik, which in the end was the difference between the two sides. When Pakistan lost their third wicket they were 33 for 3 in 5.5 overs; Sri Lanka lost their third wicket at 35, after 4.5 overs. From there, the two innings shaped up differently: while Pakistan's captain scored a half-century and combined in a century partnership, Sri Lanka's could only manage 28, and their fourth-wicket stand put together just 53.
Pakistan's counter-attack was outstanding for the manner in which both Younis and Malik attacked the bowling simultaneously - there was no thought of one batsman playing second fiddle and allowing the other to dominate. Both went after Jayasuriya so wholeheartedly that he ended up equalling the record for the most expensive figures in Twenty20 internationals.
So thorough was their onslaught that Pakistan ended up with a challenging score even without a significant contribution from Shahid Afridi. In fact, Afridi hasn't yet struck gold with the bat in a tournament which should have been right up his alley. A big score against Australia would be just the ideal way for Afridi the batsman to announce himself on the big stage.
His bowling has come in extremely handy, though. His three wickets - especially the dismissals of Jayawardene and Chamara Silva - turned the game around, as did Pakistan's masterstroke of holding back Umar Gul till the 14th over. Malik explained the reasoning behind the decision: "In a game like this it's important that one of our main bowlers is bowling almost all the time. That makes the opposition wary as well, and they can't relax."
Faced with a stiff target, Sri Lanka had little opportunity to do that anyway. The win puts Pakistan in an excellent position to make it to the last four, but for Sri Lanka the road is uphill now. They could make a start, though, by beating Bangladesh on Tuesday.
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