Malinga keeps fighting Pakistan at bay

Pakistan did what Pakistan does, turning the opening match of the Asia Cup 2014 into a humdinger of a contest at the Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium in Fatullah, but in the end, despite a valiant innings from Misbah-ul-Haq, it fell short of Sri Lanka’s 296 for 6, ending with 284 all out in 48.5 overs, courtesy Lasith Malinga’s 5 for 52.

The 12-run defeat was marked by some typically come-from-behind moments by Pakistan, but the defending champion couldn’t its their magic and go all the way on Tuesday (February 25). While Misbah was the tragic hero, ending with 73 off 84, and Umar Akmal showcased his full array of strokes in a 72-ball 74, the day belonged to a different batting pair, apart from Malinga’s bowling heroics.

Lahiru Thirimanne and Kumar Sangakkara had come together with Sri Lanka 28 for 1 in the eighth over. They were separated only in the 32nd over, after a 161-run stand spanning 146 balls that put Sri Lanka on course for an imposing total. Thirimanne hit his second ODI century, while Sangakkara showed his rich vein of form in Bangladesh wasn’t about to end anytime soon, with a brisk 67. A cluster of wickets when both fell didn’t deter Angelo Mathews, whose 55 not out, propelled Sri Lanka in the closing stages.

The Pakistan bowlers found both left-handers difficult propositions. While Thirimanne was strong off his legs, Sangakkara was quick to whip and cut when the bowlers strayed. Saeed Ajmal did ask a few questions, and was unlucky to miss having Thirimanne twice – once when the ball beat batsman, pads, stumps and wicketkeeper to run away for four byes, and once when Thirimanne’s fine edge found the fence behind the batsman again because there was no slip. But the other bowlers were handled comfortably.

Sangakkara was looking in supreme touch, but fell against the run of play, pulling Umar Gul straight to Ahmed Shehzad at midwicket after a 65-ball innings. It was a ball Sangakkara could have deposited anywhere, and his disappointment at not turning a good score into a great one was evident. However, the second-wicket association had set a superb platform, with Sri Lanka 189 for 2 in 31.5 overs.

Thirimanne (102 off 110 balls) reached his century with a pleasing cover drive just before the drinks break, but couldn’t carry on for much longer. Ajmal was at it again, pitching it right, getting good turn and beating the bat of the perhaps tired centurion to rattle the stumps.

Sri Lanka then slipped to 251 for 6 in the 44th over, but the good hand by Mathews ensured it had enough on the board.

It didn’t nearly look enough though, when Misbah and Umar were batting together. Pakistan has been past-master of the come-back-from-nowhere rearguard action, and in Misbah, it found the captain for the fightback.

Pakistan had begun well, but from 77 for 1 in 12.2 overs it slid to 121 for 4 in 23.3 overs. It looked to be headed towards defeat when Misbah and Umar came together. Over the course of a 121-run stand in 19 overs, Umar provided the impetus, while Misbah was serene in progress.

All Sri Lankan bowlers came in for some heavy stick, with some gasp-worthy shots over midwicket and straight hits past bowlers and fielders. Faced with an initially mounting asking rate, Misbah and Umar kept pace, and Sri Lanka looked rattled.

A potentially match-turning moment in the 35th over involved a vociferous caught behind appeal off Suranga Lakmal. The bowler, the wicketkeeper and the fielders all went up in unison but the umpire thought otherwise. Pakistan was then 181 for 4, needing 116 from 93 balls, while Misbah was on 44 off 56.

From there, both Misbah and Umar raised half-centuries, but crucially, unlike Thirimanne, none of them could kick on from there. Umar was the first to go, Lakmal getting sweet revenge with a big nick to Sangakkara behind the stumps.

At 242 for 5, with 55 needed off 45, it was still anybody’s game, when Malinga broke it open in the 45th over. Shahid Afridi fell off the fourth ball of the over, but the death knell was sounded off the final ball, when another flick by Misbah didn’t cross the man at square leg, but landed in his hands. Misbah’s departure didn’t signal the end of the chase though. Bilawal Bhatti and Ajmal both combined to take 17 off Lakmal’s next over, until Malinga returned with one of his toe-crushing specials to trap Ajmal in front. He then made it a night to remember by rattling the stumps of Bhatti for his fifth wicket.

Pakistan hasn’t won while chasing a target of over 250 since February 2011, and for targets over 290, that date stretches back to November 2008.

On a balmy evening in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka ensured that the wait would be extended.

Pakistan haven’t won while chasing a target of over 250 since February 2011, and for targets over 290, that date stretches back to November 2008.

On a balmy evening in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka ensured that the wait would be extended.

(Courtesy: International Cricket Council)