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Match Analysis

SL let it slip despite Malinga's best efforts

Three glaring dropped catches off the bowling of Lasith Malinga were pivotal as Sri Lanka's "pathetic" fielding cost them a semi-final place

Lasith Malinga was stretching between almost every delivery of his final over. His body can't do what it used to. And there would be no miracle. Sarfraz Ahmed angled a short-of-a-length delivery, at not much above medium pace, fine of third man and started sprinting off in a random direction with a celebratory run to rival Imran Tahir.
We might not see Malinga in a global competition again. It could have been such a different story.
This may have been the most exciting match of the Champions Trophy, but it was also the lowest quality barring the burst between Mohammad Amir and Junaid Khan which dissected Sri Lanka's middle order. In many ways it was astonishing they got themselves into a position to be considered favourites.
They scrambled to 236 but when Fakhar Zaman burst to a 33-ball fifty it looked to have broken the game. Somehow, though, Sri Lanka claimed seven wickets for 88 with, basically, a three-man bowling attack although Thisara Perera chipped in with the scalp of Mohammad Hafeez. However, Perera's key part in the afternoon was still to come.
One-by-one Pakistan's top order offered a helping hand, though Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep were once again impressive with their perseverance. But with the flying start provided by Fakhar, Angelo Mathews had to throw his lot in with his main bowlers. Pradeep was done by the 37th over, Lakmal by the 42nd.
Fielding first, as they did against South Africa and India, it is easier to absorb the weaker bowlers because a captain knows they'll have a chance to chase whatever is set. It worked against India in record-breaking fashion. But defending a low total the attack was thin beyond the main three. Mathews insisted there was no other option, needing the extra batting cover even though it was Dhananjaya de Silva who had only arrived 48 hours ago.
Everything had to go their way in the field. It needed a faultless display. Instead a familiar foe reared its head.
Malinga returned to the attack for the 39th over. The stand between Sarfraz and Amir had reduced Pakistan's requirement to 44. The balls remaining wasn't even an issue. It was bowl them out or lose the game.
Malinga loosened himself up - as much as he could - with a bouncer. The next delivery was an attempted slower-ball yorker which drifted down the leg side. Then he followed it with another slower one, straighter this time, and Sarfraz was early on his shot. The ball spooned, almost in slow motion, towards mid-on. Pakistan were going to be eight down; Sri Lanka favourites again. Except Thisara thought he was catching a bar of soap. And it ended up on the shower floor.
To a man, Sri Lanka had their hands on their heads. Mathews, who later termed Sri Lanka's fielding "shambolic" wore a look of thunder. But that wasn't the end of it; it hadn't even been the start.
In the opening over of the chase, Azhar Ali cut firmly to Danushka Gunathilaka at point - a man who has taken blinding catches in that position - but the chance went down. It was simple, but not as simple as Thisara's.
"It was unfortunate that we dropped his catches today, he would have been a different bowler, but still he came out and gave his heart out, and he is a champion bowler for us," Mathews said.
Malinga, whose own drop of Faf du Plessis at The Oval was another crucial moment, had been able to stew at mid-on after Thisara's blunder, often with his arms crossed as though he had no intention of fielding a delivery but his next over was of Keystone Cops proportions.
It began with another slower bouncer which Sarfraz hooked in the air towards deep square. The fielder, substitute Seekugge Prasanna had to run it and dive forward for the catch. The ball hit his hands and then the ground. It was the toughest of the catches put down, but Sri Lanka needed a moment of inspiration and it had passed them by again.
Next delivery, Amir pushed the ball into the covers where it slipped through the legs of the fielder. Two balls later, Amir is then beaten, it bounces before reaching wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella who couldn't get a glove on it, the ball ricocheting off his leg to fine leg for four byes.
But the over wasn't done there. The next delivery was prodded to short cover and, again, was let through for a run. The final ball was blocked. There was a loud cheer. It sounded as though it was from the Pakistan contingent for a solid shot, but it may have been from the Sri Lankans for the fact the ball was picked up without drama.
"The boys have worked extremely hard," Mathews said. "Today we dropped three catches, but there has been a genuine effort from the boys and from the support staff, and we've expressed a lot about our fielding, we've talked about it a lot, and we put a lot of energy on our fielding. So, there has been a genuine effort on fielding."
Four overs later, the game was done. The stuffing knocked out of Sri Lanka by 15 minutes of mayhem in an error-strewn match. In years gone by, even the 11 runs that Malinga had to play with when he started his final over may have been enough for something special. This time, though, Sarfraz comfortably picked off what was needed then charged off in celebration. No one was catching him. Least of all the Sri Lankans.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo