Atapattu's unbeaten century inspires Sri Lanka to victory

Karachi, Feb 13: Marvan Atapattu struck his maiden century against Pakistan to power Sri Lanka to a convincing 29-run victory in the first one-day international at the packed-to-capacity National Stadium here on Sunday.

The 29-year-old from Kalutara scored a flawless and elegant unbeaten 119 - his third century in 90 one-dayers - to lift Sri Lanka to an imposing 274 for eight after Saeed Anwar had won the toss and opted to field first on a perfect batting track.

A cool and calculated Atapattu, named Man-of-the-Match, faced 134 balls during his entertaining innings that spiced seven hits to the fence.

The Sri Lankan bowlers and fielders continued the good work done by Atapattu to dismiss Pakistan for 245 in 48 overs after Saeed Anwar and Aamir Sohail had provided the home team a solid 71-run start in 15 overs.

Off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan took a blinder off his own bowling to dismiss debutant Imran Abbas and then added the prized scalps of Wasim Akram and Abdur Razzaq to finish with three for 31. Chaminda Vaas removed Yasir Arafat and Saqlain Mushtaq to finish with two for 32.

But it was Sri Lanka's fielding that won the hearts of approximately 38,000 spectators and millions watching the match on the television. The tourists were agile and alert, giving their best to the bowlers and their skipper.

The athleticism shown by Upul Chandana and the bull's eye throw by Indika de Saram from mid-on that beat another debutant Younis Khan were the glimpses of the tourists brilliance in the field.

Chandana dived full length off his own bowling and in one action hit the stumps at the striker's end to take a casual Yousuf Youhana by surprise. De Saram's throw from mid-on that uprooted the middle-stump was another example of clean piece of fielding the visitors put up in the second phase of the match.

Younis Khan, surprisingly demoted to No 7 despite scoring over 1,100 runs in domestic season while batting at No 4, salvaged Pakistan's pride after the home team had slumped to 166 for six in 36.5 overs.

Debutant Younis showed the wristy elegance and displayed a fine array of strokes to make a fine 46 off 41 balls that included five boundaries.

Younis added 61 runs for the seventh wicket from 50 balls with Abdur Razzaq (24) after some over cautious batting by debutant Imran Abbas saw the run-rate shoot to 8.5 with 13 overs to go.

The seasoned left-handed duo of Aamir Sohail and Saeed Anwar had provided Pakistan a perfect platform when they put on 71 for the first wicket. But the Pakistan lost their way with the dismissal of Saeed (36) and then Aamir (47) in a space of 30 runs.

Wasim Akram entertained a festive crowd by scoring 23 off 20 balls, including 14 runs off three deliveries from Chandana. But it was only a delay of the inevitable.

Saeed Anwar was himself guilty of squandering an ideal batting opportunity by putting Sri Lanka into bat without realizing how difficult it would be for the home team to chase in the wake of an inexperienced middle-order. To rub salt into the wounds, Saeed sent Younis out to bat at No 7 and wasted a golden chance to get the best out of one of the finest young batsmen on the domestic circuit.

Sanath Jayasuriya pounced on the opportunity from his counterpart's blunder to field first and set a stepping stone for Sri Lanka for a huge score by featuring in a 111-run second wicket partnership with Marvan Atapattu to take the score from 10 for one to 121 for two in 23.3 overs.

The partnership ended when Jayasuriya holed out to Wasim Akram to give Pakistan's third debutant Yasir Arafat his first international wicket. But by then the damage had already been done.

Jayasuriya notched up his 34th career half century while scoring 54 off 73 balls with five boundaries.

Atapattu was also involved in two useful partnerships that propelled Sri Lanka to a match-winning score. He added 56 for the third wicket with Mahela Jayawardena (27) and 65 for the fifth wicket with Tillekeratne Dilshan (34).

Atapattu, who initially played a sheet-anchor role, came out of his groove in the last 10 overs and helped Sri Lanka add 71 valuable runs.

Atapattu batted with admirable concentration and application. The underrated batsman's selection of stroke was brilliant while he geometrically bisected the Pakistan fielders for ones and twos. He was quick between the wickets and made the fielders commit unforced errors.

Atapattu showed Pakistan batsmen that if one stroke-maker occupies the crease for full 50 overs, any team can reach a score of around 250 and more.

Atapattu's enthralling knock helped Sri Lanka break their jinx at the National Stadium where the tourists won their first match in five visits. For Pakistan, it was their seventh defeat in 17 matches and their fourth on a trot since 1996-97.