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Murali the star as Sri Lanka edge a low-scoring thriller

Sri Lanka 172 (Dilshan 46) beat Pakistan 160 (Muralitharan 5-23) by 12 runs

The first three matches of the Bank Alfalah Cup may have been a fast bowler's paradise, but in the fourth match it was Sri Lanka's spinners who claimed the limelight. Asked to chase a modest 173 after another unconvincing display from Sri Lanka's top order, Pakistan were bundled out for 160 on a crumbling pitch.

Muttiah Muralitharan, the Man of the Match, was the chief destroyer, taking four wickets for five runs in 22 balls during two late spells. He finished with 5 for 23, wrapping up the victory as Shabbir Ahmed gloved a catch to Mahela Jayawardene at silly point.

The Pakistan reply started well enough, with Mohammad Hafeez hooking a six and a four in the first two overs, but the run-out of Taufeeq Umar by a direct hit from Tillakaratne Dilshan, who had earlier starred with the bat, rushed the Sri Lankans back into the match.

Prabath Nissanka broke through next, as Hafeez edged the first ball of his second spell into the mitts of Kumar Sangakkara at second slip (33 for 2), before Sri Lanka's spinners started to apply pressure on Pakistan's middle order, exploiting a dry surface on which the ball turned square.

Yousuf Youhana and Faisal Iqbal consolidated, adding 24 in 46 balls, before Youhana tried to work an offbreak to leg, but only managed to lob a simple return catch to Muralitharan. Soon after, Faisal completely mistimed a forcing stroke off Kaushal Lokuarachchi (66 for 4).

Younis Khan and Shoaib Malik propped up the innings for a while, inching Pakistan past three figures during a 46-run stand, before Sanath Jayasuriya and Muralitharan tightened the screws as the last 15 overs commenced with Pakistan needing 61 runs.

Jayasuriya lured Khan down the wicket and had him stumped for 26, and Muralitharan grabbed two wickets in a crucial third spell. Malik slammed down on his stumps to be out hit-wicket for 33 and Abdul Razzaq was caught behind (142 for 7).

Pakistan crawled closer when Muralitharan was withdrawn from the attack, with Rashid Latif scoring 20 priceless runs. But, with Pakistan needing 19 from the last five overs, Muralitharan struck with his first delivery of his final spell as Shoaib Akhtar danced down the track, missed, and was stumped (154 for 8). Latif tried to finish the match in a hurry but was caught at deep midwicket off Lokuarachchi in the next over.

The victory leaves Sri Lanka with 10 points. New Zealand and Pakistan have seven points, though New Zealand have an extra game in hand.

Earlier, Dilshan solved some of Sri Lanka's middle-order worries with a combative 46. Arriving at the crease with Sri Lanka tottering on 48 for 4, Dilshan breathed fresh life into the innings during a 79-run stand for the sixth wicket with Kumar Dharmasena, who scored 26.

Sri Lanka were on course for a humiliating defeat after a string of soft top-order dismissals. The openers set the tone, with Jayasuriya wafting lamely outside his off stump two balls after being hit on the hand, and Kaluwitharana whipping a catch to mid-on (13 for 2).

Atapattu and Sangakkara laboured hard for a 34-run stand in 68 balls before Atapattu edged to Latif off Shabbir. Jayawardene was run out for a duck and Sangakkara was caught at the wicket, as Sri Lanka tottered at 53 for 5.

However, Dilshan and Dharmasena showed greater application during their workmanlike stand, which gradually changed the balance of the match. They concentrated on scoring singles and twos, striking only three boundaries in the partnership.

But just when respectability loomed for Sri Lanka, on 132 for five with 9.2 overs remaining, Malik grabbed back the initiative for Pakistan with a double strike. Hafeez plucked out a diving catch at square leg to dismiss Dharmasena and Dilshan was bowled as he played down the wrong line. When Lokuarachchi nicked a catch to Latif, Sri Lanka were back in deep trouble on 139 for 8.

Muralitharan, though, created some smiles with an entertaining 19 from 17 balls, adding 25 with Chaminda Vaas. Thanks to the 33 runs added for the last two wickets, and Pakistan's charitable 33 extras, Sri Lanka's bowlers had been given a chance.