After Angelo Mathews and Muttiah Muralitharan had combined to devastating effect with the bat, Sri Lanka's pace bowlers scythed through Pakistan's top order to lead them to a 36-run victory on a blustery day in Dambulla. Sri Lanka seemingly had the game in the bag at 134 for 8, but a gritty and stroke-filled 62-run stand between Umar Gul and Mohammad Aamer so nearly spoilt their day. Pakistan had bossed the opening exchanges after electing to field on a green-tinged pitch, but they never quite recovered from a batting Powerplay in which 54 runs were conceded. With none of the frontline batsmen able to build on starts, it was left to the tail to try and pull off a miracle.
Sri Lanka had scripted a stirring revival of their own in the morning. After 44 overs, they were an underwhelming 169 for 6. But once Nuwan Kulasekara fell, having added 42 with Mathews, Murali whirled his bat like a dervish. Gul was top-edged for four and then straight-driven for six in an over that cost 15, and Shahid Afridi then clobbered through the off side for fours before Aamer put the sheen on a superb debut display by bowling him for 32. It had taken just 15 balls though, and by then, on a surface where run-making was not easy, Sri Lanka had enough of a total to defend.
Pakistan appeared deflated by that revival, and their batting effort never left the ground. Kulasekara started things off, tormenting Shoaib Malik outside his off stump. The odd ball would move away, while others would nip back and force him into the most awkward contortions. The scoreboard was moving thanks to a couple of lovely drives from Kamran Akmal but there was an air of inevitability about Malik's dismissal, bowled playing down the wrong line to a straighter one.
After Lasith Malinga's slingshot pace and slower balls had failed to provide a breakthrough, Kumar Sangakkara turned to Thilan Thushara, and he struck with his very first delivery. Akmal also played down the wrong line to one that deviated little, and saw his stumps pegged back. When Mohammad Yousuf then chased a wide one from Kulasekara, Pakistan had slumped to 48 for 3.
Afridi injected some energy into proceedings, clubbing Malinga over midwicket for six, but there was nothing distinguished about the lazy slice to Thushara that ended his innings at 27. Once Younis Khan flayed Thushara down to Mathews at third man, and Misbah-ul-Haq popped one back to Murali off the leading edge, the cause was hopelessly lost.
Fawad Alam and Abdul Razzaq delayed the inevitable while making no dent on the asking-rate, but it was left to Gul and Mohammad Aamer to send some frissons of worry through the Lankan camp with some cavalier hitting in their own Powerplay. Some sloppy bowling from Malinga helped their cause and it was left to Mahela Jayawardene to seal the deal late on with a direct hit from point to run out Aamer. With Malinga yorking Gul next ball, it was all over.
It could have been so very different for Pakistan, who had seen Razzaq and Aamer bowl really well with the new ball in the morning. The initial breakthrough was delayed only because of indifferent fielding. Akmal put down a sharp chance off Sanath Jayasuriya down the leg side, denying Razzaq a fairytale return after two years in the wilderness. And Razzaq himself could have had Jayasuriya a couple of overs later, but a miscue straight back down the pitch was embarrassingly dropped right in front of the batsman's face.
At the other end, Upul Tharanga was in poor touch, beaten repeatedly outside his off stump with feet scarcely moving. It was Jayasuriya who went first though, slashing the second ball he faced from Gul down to Aamer at third man. Aamer had impressed with the new ball, bowling with pace and beating the bat often. And after Tharanga was put out of his misery, nicking one behind, it needed a 48-run stand between Sangakkara and Jayawardene to resurrect the innings.
As in the Test series, Sangakkara seldom failed to cash in on the bad ball, stroking Gul through mid-on and cover, and clipping Younis' part-time medium-pace through midwicket for fours. But just as it seemed that the time was ripe to accelerate, he was undone by a Saeed Ajmal delivery that dipped and turned, and the attempt to cut merely looped to point.
Then came an almighty stutter. Chamara Kapugedera edged Afridi behind, and the onus was on Jayawardene to up the ante. Thilan Samaraweera couldn't do much on his return to the side, miscuing a pull to mid-on, and when Jayawardene was caught short going for a non-existent second run by Younis' flat throw from midwicket, the wheels were off and the axle nearly broken.
But Mathews and Kulasekara didn't panic, scoring in singles and twos before the Powerplay was taken. The final flourish did the rest, as the previously economical Afridi and Gul were taken apart. Gul tried to return the favour when Pakistan took their own Powerplay late in the game, but by then, it was far too late to be anything more than a consolation.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo