Perera keeps Sri Lanka on top in T20Is

To set an evening on fire it helps to have Tillakaratne Dilshan. Kusal Perera’s 84 was the platform on which was built Sri Lanka’s series-equalling win in the second Twenty20 International in Dubai on Friday (December 13). Kumar Sangakkara provided the finish to the highest T20 total seen at this venue, but it was Dilshan who controlled the mood and tone for Sri Lanka’s response to its loss on Wednesday evening, with a result that ensured Sri Lanka remained the No.1 ranked team in the format.

It was his 48, in a 100-run opening stand with Perera that said Sri Lanka was serious and that Pakistan had better worry. Perera had already got them off to a start in the very first over, but Dilshan began his night’s work in the third over. The first boundary, paddled over fine leg, was a trademark; the second, a punch straight down the ground, reminded everyone – if it needed doing- of his quality as a batsman.

When he then tore into Bilawal Bhatti’s first over, the innings’ fifth, the game was already beginning to look up for Pakistan. There were four boundaries, including a proper Dilscoop. But a glided cut, riding tall on top of a short ball and a pull as effective as a slap to the face were the over’s key notes.

You are mine, Dilshan seemed to be saying, and Pakistan was not looking in any mood to dispute that equation.

Perera provided much heat of his own, of course. He took 17 off a Shahid Afridi over and also shared responsibility for that rarest sight in Twenty20 cricket: a massively expensive Mohammad Hafeez over. That was the innings’ 13th and went for 24, Perera sweeping and driving two sixes.

Dilshan had departed the previous over, caught at deep point off an attempted reverse sweep but he had done precisely what was needed.

Sangakkara took over and, like a DJ mixing Beethoven seamlessly with Pitbull, played a cameo it is difficult to imagine too many other batsmen as orthodox as him managing. There were the usual shots from the Sangakkara repertoire, including two wonderful sixes straight.

But there were many more cute little shots behind the wicket, like he was flipping pancakes in just the slightest bit of a rush. By the time Perera was run out off the last ball of the innings, Sangakkara had helped put on 78 off just 37 balls.

It is not that often that Pakistan is bad with the ball in this format. Very rarely is it as disappointing as it was, conceding a 200-plus total for the first time in 78 T20Is. For the loss of just three men, it was also the least number of wickets Pakistan has ever taken in a completed 20-over innings. But far more than its bowling, it was Sri Lanka’s batting that was responsible.

The chase was never realistically on, not only because Pakistan chase totals like Jerry might chase Tom, but also because it would have to be the highest chase ever in this format.

At least Sharjeel Khan further pushed his growing credentials with a maiden fifty and a sparkling, boisterous knock. It ended in a crazy, vivid burst when he struck two fours and two sixes in five balls before being bowled, round his legs, off the sixth.

Pakistan’s evening, already disastrous, could only be considered complete with a middle-order meltdown. Sharjeel’s was the second in a manic collapse that saw five wickets fall in just 12 balls (with 21 runs also scored) between the ninth and 11th overs of the innings.

The bowling was not particularly memorable, though Seekuge Prasanna’s two wickets in three balls had at least the inherent advantage of arriving through legspin. One catch, by Sangakkara, was memorable though, first misjudging a skier before swiveling round, diving and catching it one-handed in full flight.

Though the lower order brought respect, the batting was generally weak, crushed by the magnitude of the chase and Dilshan’s bullying.

(Courtesy: International Cricket Council)