A strong batting effort led by Tillakaratne Dilshan took Sri Lanka to a formidable total, but Pakistan, buoyed by contributions from Sharjeel Khan, Sarfraz Ahmed and, most significantly, Umar Akmal, went past the target with relative ease to record a win in the last round-robin stage match of the 2016 Asia Cup.
Sri Lanka, after being put in, scored 150 for 4, brilliant by the standards of the tournament. But Pakistan knocked off the runs in 19.2 overs for a six-wicket victory.
Sharjeel and Sarfraz set things up for Pakistan, and when Akmal and Shoaib Malik got together, the target was still a tricky 57 from 43. But it was one of Akmal’s better days, and with Malik for company, he took his team closer and close before falling to a brilliant catch with the scores tied. With the whole of the last over still left, it didn’t matter.
For a change, batsmen ruled the roost at Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur on Friday (March 4). Pakistan went about its chase smartly, Sharjeel taking the lead early on. Three powerful crunches and a delicately placed one, all for four in one Dushmantha Chameera over, was the highlight of the Power Play overs, which Pakistan ended on 50 for 1, and it was ahead of the game from there on.
Sharjeel fell soon after that for a 24-ball 31, holing out at long-on off Dilshan, who bowled just one over. Mohammad Hafeez had departed earlier, chipping a catch back to Shehan Jayasuriya, but Sarfraz, who had shared a 35-run stand with Sharjeel, took charge after that, before Akmal, in cahoots with Malik, put the game beyond Sri Lanka.
There was a sense of urgency as well as common sense about the Pakistan batting. The singles were ticked over, Akmal found the boundaries when needed – a six and a four, both off long-hops from Milinda Siriwardena in the 15th over, turning the match decisively in Pakistan’s favour. The flow never changed.
It finally took the catch of the tournament, a sideways dive from Thisara Perera to grab Akmal’s inside-out cover drive in goalkeeper fashion, to end Akmal’s surge after a 37-ball 48, with four fours and two sixes. But Pakistan was only one run from the win at that stage.
Earlier, Chandimal and Dilshan put together the best partnership of the tournament, a phase that lasted 14.1 overs and realised 110 runs.
For five balls in the first over, Mohammad Amir made the ball move around, chiefly in to the right-handed opening batsmen, and there was a peach from Mohammad Irfan in the second that squared Dilshan up. Bar those two bits and the simple chance Irfan fluffed at short fine-leg when Dilshan top-edged an attempted sweep off Shahid Afridi, the two batters were all serious intent and flashing blades.
Dilshan, one of the original masters of innovative batting in Twenty20s, was at his best when he played through the line. Almost each time he tried something fancy, a Dilscoop or such, he faltered. But when he kept it simple, he looked good.
But the shot of his innings of 75 not out from 56 balls, with ten fours and a six, was when he did innovate. It was the first ball of the 19th over, Amir steaming in. Dilshan waited till the last moment, changed position, and reverse Dilscooped Amir for four over the short third man fielder.
Dilshan also looked very good against the young left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz, who he stepped out to and smashed for four and six in the direction of long-on, and then four and four more, all in an over. Eighteen runs came off it, the last Power Play over, and Sri Lanka had gone from 26 to 44, and from there till Chandimal fell against the run of play, it was a one-way street.
Once he got his range, Chandimal sped ahead of Dilshan with a blaze of powerful flat-batted hits in every direction.
Those are the kind of strokes that look like wild slogs when they don’t come off, and that’s what Chandimal played after reaching 58 when he heaved Wahab Riaz to Sharjeel at midwicket on the 49th ball he had faced.
At that point, Dilshan was on 47. By the time he reached 55, Jayasuriya, Chamara Kapugedara and Dasun Shanaka had fallen. At that late stage of the innings, it didn’t make a big difference. Nor did the fact that Angelo Mathews sat out the match with a calf injury.
Pakistan rung in the changes, strengthening the bowling, as Khurram Manzoor, Anwar Ali and Mohammad Sami went out, and Mohammad Nawaz, Wahab Riaz and Iftikhar Ahmed came in. It didn’t help a lot. But the batsmen made sure there were no hiccups.
The result did nothing in the context of the Asia Cup, but between the two teams, Pakistan would certainly be heading to the World Twenty20 with a bit more confidence than the Sri Lanka.