Courtesy: International Cricket Council
Sri Lanka wasn’t at its best, either with the bat or in the field, but it still had enough in reserve to overwhelm Pakistan and make it to the final of the ICC World Twenty20 2012.
In a low-scoring thriller that kept a capacity crowd on the edge of their seats throughout the three-and-a-quarter-hour shootout, Sri Lanka kept its nerve to conjure a remarkable 16-run win at the R Premadasa Stadium on Thursday night. It now awaits the winner of the second semi-final between Australia and the West Indies in Sunday’s final.
It was anything but a comfortable victory for the host nation, though the final margin appears reasonably commanding in the context of the scores. Sri Lanka found heroes at the most opportune moments to send Pakistan crashing to a demoralising defeat.
Mahela Jayawardena had played outstandingly after winning the toss to steer Sri Lanka to 139-4, competitive on a slow turner that was a poor advertisement for the Twenty20 game, but it was far from intimidating for Pakistan’s unpredictable batting line-up.
Pakistan was in the hunt at various stages, as most teams will be when up against such a middling total, but twin strikes by Angelo Mathews and Rangana Herath, whose left-arm spin was preferred to Akila Dananjaya’s varied mix, pegged Pakistan back irrevocably.
Lasith Malinga, who had had a poor day in the field, sending down eight wides, misfielding on more than one occasion and putting down Mohammad Hafeez at long-on, redeemed himself with a brilliant 19th over that produced just four with 27 needed off 12 deliveries. Nuwan Kulasekara gave away no more than six in the last as Pakistan limped to 123-7.
Without ever looking convincing, Hafeez had kept Pakistan in the hunt with the only meaningful innings until Umar Akmal at the end, but wickets kept tumbling around him as the Pakistani batsmen allowed big-stage nerves to get to them. As well as Sri Lanka bowled, with Mathews, Herath and Ajantha Mendis to the fore, and Malinga and Kulasekara playing good support roles, Pakistan had itself to blame for poor shot selection, as was the case four nights ago when India bowled it out for 128.
Pakistan was handily placed at 55-1 after nine overs when Mathews, brought back for a second spell, won a fortuitous leg-before shout against Nasir Jamshed. That triggered a rush of wickets at regular intervals and the exodus continued unabated as, driven by a baying crowd, Sri Lanka bore down inexorably to fashion a sensational victory.
Tillakaratne Dilshan’s inability to both force the pace and rotate the strike had left Jayawardena with too much to do at the start of the Sri Lankan innings. Dilshan failed to adapt to the lack of pace in the pitch, never finding his timing even after spending more than an hour in the middle, but Jayawardena batted as if on an entirely different surface.
Jayawardena is quite the classicist in Test cricket, but has come on by leaps and bounds as a Twenty20 player too. Sohail Tanvir, brought in for Abdul Razzaq because he troubled Sri Lanka in the Twenty20 International series in Hambantota in June, bowled extremely tidily and got reasonable carry as well, while Raza Hasan continued to hold his own, firing the ball in and not allowing the batsmen to get under the ball or free their arms.
Even so, Jayawardena found ways of keeping the scoreboard ticking over. He had to do the scoring not only for himself but also for Dilshan, and till he was dismissed, he did that quite adequately, playing the sweep as well as the reverse sweep with authority and assurance.
Saeed Ajmal had been expected to pose the biggest threat from a Sri Lankan perspective, but Jayawardena quickly showed him who was boss with two boundaries in the off-spinner’s first over. Ajmal didn’t have the best night – 1 for 33 from four overs – but the rest of the bowling pack rallied around him, ensuring that Sri Lanka never got out of sight.
Jayawardena had progressed to 42 with seven brilliant fours when he scooped Shahid Afridi to short fine-leg, having done all the running in a stand of 63 with Dilshan. Kumar Sangakkara then took over, oozing class and quality as he wasted no time in imposing himself on the Pakistani bowling.
Like Jayawardena before him, though, Sangakkara too fell when he had the bowling at his mercy, outfoxed by clever bit of bowling from Hafeez. Seeing the batsman advance, Hafeez bowled the ball wide; Sangakkara, opting to go ahead with his stroke, was forced to reach out and drag the ball, only for Shoaib Malik to take a very good catch running to his right from long-on.
At 84-2 in 13 overs, Sri Lanka was well set for a final assault, which never materialised. Dilshan continued to scratch around and Jeevan Mendis at No. 4 too hardly hit a shot in anger. Their efforts to kick on further were foiled by an excellent first couple of overs from Umar Gul, only brought on in the 16th over.
It was left to Mathews and Thisara Perera to give the total some meat right at the end as they put on 21 in just 12 deliveries. The last over of the innings, Gul’s third, was the most productive as it yielded 16. It was precisely the difference between victory and defeat.