Sri Lanka survived perhaps Shahid Afridi's finest innings only through some desperate fielding and lovely bowling from Lasith Malinga. The batsmen before Afridi seemed either incompetent of or uninterested in the chase, the batsmen with him seemed intent on running themselves out, his cramp-induced groans could be heard through the stump mic, he hobbled the last 17 of his runs, and he had taken Pakistan from 32 for 4 to within 39 of the target when Kumar Sangakkara produced a catch for the ages. The rest, though, just couldn't get over the line.
Captaincy seems to have done something to Afridi. It was hands down his most mature innings. Don't go by the strike-rate of 143.42, or the seven sixes, or the demolition of Muttiah Muralitharan (51 off 25), this was every bit a batsman's knock and not a happy hitter's. When he walked in, the game was so not on, with four down in the 14th over.
Afridi then reminded the crowd Pakistan were indeed trying to win the match. Just like that, he smacked the first two balls pitched up to him for sixes. Farveez Maharoof was at the receiving end, and learned his lesson fast: he hardly pitched anything up in the rest of his spell, and bowled some impressive cutters, but didn't court success.
You could sense Sri Lanka were now waiting for the inevitable mistake from Afridi. You could sense Afridi was not going to make that inevitable mistake. The deep fielders waited for catches, all they got was shots to their right or their left that got Pakistan couples. Umar Akmal joined in the process, using the big ground to their advantage. On nine occasions they managed to take couples during their 73-run fifth-wicket stand. In a further exhibition of calculated hitting, Afridi lofted Murali for four sixes in four overs, all over his head, all risk-free.
With cause for worry, Sangakkara brought Malinga back for the 25th over, and Umar set off for a suicidal single having defended straight to short cover. And Tillakaratne Dilshan is not the man to steal sharp singles off. Umar's brother, Kamran Akmal, way better with the batting gloves than the keeping ones, started another important partnership.
Afridi now took that innings to a level higher, finding gaps through the field for fours. Murali was now welcomed back with a swept boundary in the 32nd over to take him to 74, and Pakistan to 154. Off the second ball, Kamran got run out. Still no impact on Afridi. Not even a short ball from Malinga that he couldn't spot fazed him. A fantastic slower ball followed, which he was deceived by but still managed to glance it for four.
Nuwan Kulasekara came back and bounced Afridi. One of those brought Afridi down like a sack of potatoes. He was 92 then. It isn't clear whether he didn't ask for a runner or wasn't allowed one. In the 40th over, he punched Mathews to the point boundary to reach his hundred. More cramps. In the 41st, lofted Murali for a fifth six, and before the ball could land, way beyond the straight boundary, Afridi was down on the ground.
Then came the turning point. Murali got one to break in big, Afridi was cramped down the leg side, it bounced on him, took his glove, went towards slip, and Sangakkara, who had already committed down the leg side, dived to his right and pulled off a one-handed blinder.