The Sri Lankan boys sat glum-faced on the outfield of the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium on Wednesday (February 3) as Roger Wijesuriya, their coach, gave them a thorough dressing down. “Avishka (Gunawardene, the former Sri Lankan batsman who is now the team’s assistant coach) cannot go to the middle and bat for you,” Wijesuriya told the boys.
Sri Lanka should have chased down 213 against Pakistan to top Group B in the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2016. But as it turned out, leaking easy runs in the first half, poor shot selection while batting and tight bowling by Pakistan forced it to concede defeat by 23 runs after it was bowled out for 189.
Pakistan thus finished on top of the group and will meet West Indies in the quarterfinal, while Sri Lanka, second in Group B, will run into Group C winners England in another last-eight clash.
The game was defined by three passages of play. Firstly, Hasan Mohsin’s attractive run-a-ball 86 from No. 5, after Pakistan had been reduced to 96 for 4 in 26.3 overs, took it to 212 before it was bowled out in 48.4 overs. Then, having seen that the Sri Lankans had bowled 37.4 overs of spin on a surface that was being used for the second time in the tournament, Zeeshan Malik, Pakistan’s stand-in captain for the game in place of an injured Gauhar Hafeez, brought his slower bowlers on through Salman Fayyaz in the 11th over. Rewards were not far away. Shadab Khan, the legspinner and Pakistan’s best bowler in the tournament, removed Charith Asalanka, Sri Lanka’s captain and best batsman, in the 14th over.
Before bowling the third ball of his first over, Shadab shifted the midwicket fielder to square-leg, and with the other fielder inside the ring on the legside being at fine-leg, Shadab bowled a short ball to Asalanka. Probably anxious to do justice to the half-tracker, the batsman pulled it straight to Sameen Gul at square-leg.
Sri Lanka resurrected its innings with some measured strike rotation through a fifth-wicket partnership of 84 between Kamindu Mendis and Vishad Randika, the wicketkeeper. The spinners, however, had taken full control over the proceedings by then.
Only seven fours were allowed in a stand of 19.3 overs and finally Mendis, who had caught everyone’s imagination in the first half with his ambidextrous spin bowling, lost patience and stepped out to Arsal Sheikh to be caught at long-on for 68.
Sri Lanka slipped further when Randika, who had made a laborious 46 to control the ship, failed to connect a short ball from Gul, Pakistan’s fastest bowler, in his second spell and was caught behind off the last ball of the 40th over.
Sri Lanka needed 49 runs off the last ten overs, but the Pakistani spinners, who bowled 32.1 overs between them, closed out the game to bowl the opposition out in 46.4 overs.
Not that Sri Lanka played badly throughout the game. It had been particularly spectacular on the field, pulling off at least one eye-catching run out. Umair Masood, who had come out at 68 for 2 in 18.1 overs, played one to cover and went for a quick single, but Avishka Fernando’s direct hit at the bowling end found the batsman short of his crease.
That is when Mohsin took control. Knowing that the situation demanded caution, he focussed on crease occupation and collected odd boundaries till he opened up in the 47th over, when he took a particular liking to Asitha Fernando, the seamer. He hit him for two fours and one six and collected 23 runs in all to race from 62 to 85 and shift the momentum in Pakistan’s favour.
Apart from his game awareness, it was his ability to place the ball with ease and generate power into his shots whenever needed that stood out and kept pushing Pakistan towards the 200-run mark.
Pakistan’s ploy was to start on an aggressive note and put the Sri Lankans on the back foot. It managed to do that, but the spinners pulled things back before Mohsin stole the show.
Mohsin’s opening spell with the new ball was also of good quality as he generated good swing. Even though Kaveen Bandara, the opener, hit a few glorious cover-drives, it was a matter of time before one of the outswingers found the edge. Mohsin removed both the openers within the sixth over and set the base for Pakistan’s quarterfinal date with West Indies in Fatullah on February 8.
Photos: Sameera Peiris