Sri Lanka maintain winning ways
Sri Lanka survived a shocking mid-innings slump and a threatening 66-run partnership between Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq to ease to a 19-run win in their first game of the Super Eights at Lord's. Chasing a modest 151 - after Sri Lanka were shackled by some superb bowling from the spinners - Pakistan's fight was led by their captain, who made a well-paced 50, but three wickets in eight balls, including those of Younis and Shahid Afridi, sunk the chase.
Sri Lanka haven't had much success against Pakistan in important limited-overs games, but here they held their nerve well when it mattered most. The momentum was clearly with Pakistan when the teams trooped off at the break - they had only conceded 70 in the last 12 after leaking 80 in the first eight - but the Sri Lankans shrugged off that lethargy when they returned, bowling with accuracy and venom, and fielding with a vigour that justified their rating as the best fielding team in the subcontinent.
Angelo Mathews did the early damage, and after five overs Pakistan had only scored 33 compared to Sri Lanka's 59. Pakistan, though, have made a habit of starting slowly and then scoring an insane amount of runs towards the end, and it seemed Younis and Misbah were well on their way to another rearguard rescue mission with their cool and unruffled approach. They began slowly, but Younis, especially, ran the singles cleverly, before upping the pace with some powerful sweeps off Murali.
Fifty-two were needed off the last five, when the screws fell off. Misbah pulled straight to deep midwicket, Afridi, quite recklessly, slogged his first ball to same area. When Younis fell to one of several superb slower deliveries from Lasith Malinga, the chase, which had looked so promising minutes earlier, was suddenly over. The end of the match was disappointing for Pakistan, for they had recovered in style from a shocking start in the field.
Sri Lanka's total owed plenty to their two openers, and the manner in which they started suggested they'd post a score of around 200. Dilshan and Jayasuriya, aided by Tanvir's extreme generosity, powered the team to 59 in five overs. Pakistan's start was sloppy even by their modest standards. Tanvir started with a no-ball, and by the time his first over was done, he'd added three wides and another no-ball to that tally. The batsmen, meanwhile, made merry: both openers eased drives through the covers as the first over leaked 18.
That was the launching pad for more heroics, as Dilshan uncorked his favourite scoop over the wicketkeeper, and Jayasuriya played his trademark shot as well - the short-arm pull for six. Younis didn't trust his spinners in the Powerplays, and Sri Lanka's openers relished pace on the ball, driving into the gaps forcefully or scooping and nudging delicately. On a quick outfield, both were equally profitable.
Afridi then led the rescue mission, denying the batsmen room, and varying his pace and length cleverly to suddenly stifle the innings. In his second over, he shackled the batsmen to just one run in his first five balls, and then forced a miscue from Jayasuriya; in his next over, Dilshan was beaten by the length, and the innings fell away completely.
Sri Lanka's problems with the lower order then resurfaced, as Sangakkara and Jayawardene fell after getting starts, and the rest struggled. Pakistan, meanwhile, had tightened considerably: Umar Gul offering no freebies, Saeed Ajmal and Shoaib Malik showing excellent control, and with the fielding getting sprightly up as well, Sri Lanka had no weak link to attack. The last five overs yielded only two fours, and it seemed Sri Lanka had lost the plot after a magnificent start. In the end, though, the lack of runs in the final overs only kept Pakistan in the hunt a little longer, and reduced Sri Lanka's margin of victory.
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo