Kumar Sangakkara's flawless century was backed by a disciplined bowling performance as Sri Lanka took a giant stride towards the final with a comfortable 64-run win over Pakistan at the National Stadium in Karachi. Sohail Tanvir's five-wicket haul couldn't prevent Sri Lanka from piling 302 for 7, and a lacklustre batting performance all but ended Pakistan's hopes by the halfway mark of their chase. For the hosts, a win here was crucial and the result severely dents their chances of progressing to the final.
Shoaib Malik, the Pakistan captain, opted to field today, perhaps wary after India had chased 300 in their previous game. However, once again his bowlers failed to make an impact barring Tanvir, who varied his pace and angle of attack intelligently. He got precious little support from the other bowlers, and the batsmen picked easy runs on a docile pitch. In contrast, each of Sri Lanka's bowlers played their part on a slowing track to limit Pakistan to 238 for 9. After the fast bowlers had throttled the runs, Ajantha Mendis sliced through the middle order with his bag of tricks to completely derail the chase.
Sangakkara's ninth ODI century - his second of the tournament - was the fulcrum of Sri Lanka innings, and the three sizeable partnerships he was in involved in boosted Sri Lanka to a 300-plus total. Sanath Jayasuriya was trapped lbw by the impressive Tanvir early, but the old firm of Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene set about steadying the innings with a 40-run stand.
The pair rarely had to take any risks, watchful against the good deliveries and putting away the loose ones on offer. As Sri Lanka progressed smoothly, Tanvir was brought back in the 14th over and he made an immediate impact, getting Jayawardene to cut one to Misbah-ul-Haq at point. That brought in Chamara Kapugedera, who gave Sangakkara solid support, sensibly working the singles while using his feet to unleash a couple of huge sixes.
Sangakkara was his usual classy self, compiling his runs in an assured manner, with an impeccably-timed push down the ground for four off Tanvir being the highlight of his knock. He was initially content playing from the crease against the spinners but danced down the track to them as the innings progressed.
Kapugedera had moved to 43, and added 88 for the third wicket, when he perished attempting to sweep a ball from outside off, only to top-edge it to midwicket, handing debutant legspinner Mansoor Amjad his first ODI wicket. Chamara Silva didn't learn from Kapugedera's dismissal and was lucky to see a sweep fly to the third-man boundary.
With Malik sending down some hit-me deliveries and the other spinners ineffective as well, Sangakkara and Silva kept the runs flowing. Yet again Malik turned to Tanvir to limit the damage, and the bowler responded by removing Silva with a delivery that angled in. After bringing up his hundred, Sangakkara threw his bat around before being bowled by Tanvir for 112. Thilan Thushara justified the decision to send him ahead of Tillakaratne Dilshan by crashing a 20-ball 28.
In quest of what would have been their most successful chase against Sri Lanka, Pakistan got off to the worst possible start when Salman Butt inside-edged Chaminda Vaas' first delivery on to his stumps. Only three runs had come off the first three overs before Malik and Younis Khan peppered the off side with boundaries to plunder 26 runs off the next two.
Just as the hosts thought the floodgates had been opened, Sri Lanka hit back with a bunch of miserly overs to maintain the stranglehold. Vaas and Nuwan Kulasekara bowled a tight line and length, and once Thilan Thushara recovered from a poor start to curb the runs, the pressure began to tell.
After Younis fell miscuing a pull to midwicket, Mohammad Yousuf and Malik consolidated, picking up the singles, but struggled to keep up with the asking-rate. With the pitch assisting spinners as the match wore on, Mendis added to his growing reputation by deceiving Yousuf (19) with a straighter one and Malik (52) with a legcutter.
By the time Shahid Afridi got out to a customary ill-advised swipe, the asking-rate had ballooned to nearly ten and there was no way back for Pakistan. All Misbah's 70-ball 76, during which he repeatedly carted the spinners over midwicket, could do was make the margin of defeat a little more respectable.
India and Sri Lanka are now both on four points, and Pakistan will have to win both their remaining Super Four matches to keep alive their thin hopes of qualifying for the title clash.