Pakistan 257 for 3 (Shehzad 95, Hafeez 70) beat Sri Lanka 256 for 9 (Thirmanne 90, Dilshan 50) by 7 wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
For the third time in the series Pakistan denied those expecting drama and nerves and inexplicable events normally associated with Pakistan cricket. They first refused to let Sri Lanka get away despite a seemingly effortless 100-run second-wicket stand and dragged them down to 256, and then Ahmed Shehzad followed it with a ruthless chase of a target that could have been tricky on a dry turning surface. This was their first bilateral series win in Sri Lanka in nine years, and took them closer to Champions Trophy qualification.
In fact even in the second match - the one that they lost - Pakistan were predictable and excellent. They just came up against individual brilliance of the Pakistani kind, and even after that record fastest fifty by Kusal Perera Pakistan fought to make sure it was not a cakewalk for Sri Lanka. There was no such out-of-the-world brilliance from Sri Lanka this time, but Pakistan retained that tenacity even though Lahiru Thirimanne and Tillakaratne Dilshan seemed in control scoring half-centuries after Perera fell for a duck. The fielders cut out the singles, the spinners choked supply of easy runs, the quicks struck to cash in on the pressure, and Sri Lanka went from 170 for 3 to score only 86 in the last 14 overs.
As a comparison, in the next 14 overs there was enough evidence Pakistan were going to cruise through the chase. Sri Lanka finally went to using Lasith Malinga as an attacking option, but Azhar Ali and Shehzad took his first three overs for 20. When it seemed like pace on ball was flying, Sri Lanka went to spin only to see Shehzad jump out of the crease and belt Sachith Pathirana back over his head first ball for a six. Nuwan Pradeep injured himself, Suranga Lakmal looked ineffective, and already Malinga was back for a second spell. Malinga provided a breakthrough, but then had Shehzad edge through vacant slip and then through the hands of slip for successive fours. All in the first 14 overs.
With his side 92 for 1 in the first 14, Mohammad Hafeez could now afford to take his time settling in. He also blunted out Malinga as he exhausted his nine overs in the first 20, looking desperately for a breakthrough. In Malinga's ninth, Shehzad suggested it wouldn't have made a difference had Malinga many more left in his bag. He whipped him for successive fours to reach 71, and Pakistan were now 116 for 1 in 20 overs.
Let down by spinners, missing in-form attacking bowlers, Sri Lanka threw other options at Pakistan, but there were no batsmen willing to oblige those looking for what has in the last 10 or so years become inevitable drama with Pakistan matches. Shehzad and Hafeez batted with authority. While Hafeez accelerated from 7 off 24 to the eventual 70 off 88, Shehzad never really slowed down. The only regret for Pakistan will be that a rare moment of fielding brilliance - diving-forward catch by Perera at third man - from Sri Lanka resulted in Shehzad's falling five short of a hundred.
Fielding brilliance was plentiful when Pakistan were in the field. From the time left-arm spinner Imad Wasim, playing only his second match, combined an arm ball with low bounce to remove Dilshan at 109 for 2 in the 23rd over, the fielders and the spinners circled around Sri Lanka. Often six men stayed inside the circle, and the spinners ran through their overs, building pressure dot by dot. Between them the three spinners - Yasir Shah, Wasim and Shoaib Malik - conceded just 108 in 24 overs.
The first victim of the pressure was Mathews. Shah had been negotiated well by Dilshan and Thirimanne, but Mathews found it tough to face Wasim and Malik. With no easy singles on offer, Pakistan kept daring Mathews to take the risk. Nineteen runs came in Mathews' first 5.3 overs at the wicket, and when he looked to break the shackles he hit Rahat Ali - in his first over back - straight to mid-off.
Dinesh Chandimal, seemingly thanks to instructions from the dressing room, sought to avoid a similar fate - Mathews scored 12 off 23 - and went on a hitting spree. He tried one ambitious shot too many, getting out to Mohammad Irfan for 20 off 21. Amid all this Thirimanne went on smoothly, driving and late-cutting his way towards a hundred. Now, though, with an inexperienced lower middle order with him Thirimanne had to make a decision: stay the anchorman and bat till the 50th over or hit a few shots to take some pressure off the youngsters.
Thirimanne went for the latter. When he first tried the big sweep off Shah, he was dropped by Ahmed Shehzad at deep square leg, a catch he somehow went on to claim. An over later Thirmanne provided both Shah and Shehzad the redemption, trying another big sweep, mis-hitting it, and watching Shehzad fly to his left. An innings that had looked solid for a long time had slowly but surely disintegrated, setting Pakistan a target that would be hunted down with 9.1 overs to spare.