Sri Lanka 124 for 5 (Nissanka 55*, Rauf 2-19, Hasnain 2-21) beat Pakistan 121 (Babar 30, Hasaranga 3-21, Theekshana 2-21, Madushan 2-21) by five wickets
Yes, it was another chasing side winning in Dubai, the venue now having seen 17 victories for chasing sides in the last 20 T20Is. But this time, Sri Lanka's bowlers had arguably put the legwork in for the victory, before the second innings could even begin.
Pakistan's innings could never quite achieve lift-off, and when the middle overs came, Wanindu Hasaranga
put in his first big performance of the tournament, taking 3 for 21. After his strikes, Pakistan's horizons contracted substantially, despite the best efforts of Mohammad Nawaz
, who seemed to be striking well in the 26 he made off 18, before he was run out. Eventually, Pakistan succumbed to 121.
Sri Lanka were rattled by Pakistan's pace in the powerplay, slipping to 29 for 3 at one stage. But so modest was the target, they could afford to take it slow. Pathum Nissanka
anchored the chase, hitting an unbeaten 55 off 48. Thanks to less substantial but more aggressive innings from Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Dasun Shanaka, Sri Lanka ambled home with 18 balls and five wickets to spare.
Hasaranga's googly dominates the middle overs
Perhaps it is because Pakistan had not played Hasaranga since 2019 (he has been a much-improved bowler since then), that they appeared especially powerless against his primary weapon - the ball that turns into the right-hander. He conceded just six runs in his first two overs. When Babar Azam
, who had moved to 30 off 28, finally came down the track and took a chance, he was beaten comprehensively - Hasaranga slipping a straighter one beneath his bat, and onto the wickets.
Iftikhar Ahmed hit a six off the fourth ball of Hasaranga's last over, but the bowler made a roaring comeback. Not only did he bowl Iftikhar with a googly, he also got Asif Ali out first ball as the batter attempted nothing more ambitious than a defensive shot, and still managed to play inside the line of a googly that clipped off stump. Pakistan were 91 for 6.
Sri Lanka control the early overs
That spell had been set up by Sri Lanka's tight bowling in the powerplay. On a worn track, Sri Lanka conceded only a single boundary off the bat in the first five overs - seamers Pramod Madushan
(on debut) and Dilshan Madushanka
, largely keeping things tight, while fingerspinners Maheesh Theekshana
and Dhananjaya de Silva
also contributed decent overs. The sixth over went for 12 runs, but thanks in part to Hasaranga, Sri Lanka kept a tight lid on the scoring.
In fact, from balls 5.5 to 14.3 (a stretch of 53 deliveries) Pakistan did not hit a boundary off the bat - five wides the only occasion on which the ball crossed the rope. This put huge pressure on the second half of the innings, and batters got out trying to hit big. Pakistan lost their last nine wickets for 58 runs.
Hasnain and Rauf rip out three wickets
Pakistan's bowlers had an even better powerplay than Sri Lanka's, thanks largely to Mohammad Hasnain
and Haris Rauf
who picked up three early wickets, and provided hope. Hasnain got one to bounce on Kusal Mendis second ball, the batter edging that to slip. Extra bounce also helped Rauf take Danushka Gunathilaka's outside edge next over, with Mohammad Rizwan diving acrobatically to his right to pouch the chance.
Hasnain could have had Dhananjaya in his next over had he held a tough return chance, but Rauf got him before long anyway, beating him for pace with a ball on the stumps, which de Silva mis-hit to mid-off.
Nissanka and Co settle things
That was as good as it got for Pakistan, though. Rajapaksa hit a couple of sixes off Usman Qadir early in the middle overs to get Sri Lanka well ahead of the required rate. Nissanka accumulated safely at the other end. They hit occasional boundaries, and though Rajapaksa got out with 42 still to get, they had 51 balls to get them in.
Nissanka completed the seventh fifty of his T20I career and helped massage the chase home, with Hasaranga hitting the winning runs.