PALLEKELE (Agencies) - It turned out to be a good toss to lose for Pakistan, as their seamers, led by Umar Gul, set up a comfortable six-wicket win by keeping Sri Lanka to a paltry 135.
Pakistan too were tested by a probing opening spell by Sri Lanka’s seamers, but they could afford to take their time and grind it out.
Runs off the bat were at a premium, Sri Lanka’s top four failed to pass double digits and their combined contribution was outscored by extras. Sohail Tanvir’s angle away from the right-hander kept had Mahela Jayawardene playing and missing; Gul’s bounce off a good length and incutters troubled Tillakaratne Dilshan.
It was a battle of attrition at both ends. Sri Lanka had two of their most experienced accumulators at the crease - Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara - but the seamers found ways to avert a partnership. An indipper from Gul trapped Jayawardene lbw, before Dinesh Chandimal chopped one onto his stumps without using his feet.
The batsmen may have had their wallets nicked when they walked out to bat - they couldn’t even buy a run. In the first ten overs, Pakistan didn’t concede a run off the bat for 26 consecutive legal deliveries. In that period, though, the only source of runs was 13 wides. The first boundary off the bat came in the 12th over. Any semblance of a recovery was halted when Sami nipped out two wickets in successive overs, leaving Sri Lanka five down at the 15th over.
Rain forced interruptions in the 18th over and again after the 24th. What followed after the second interruption were two of the most productive partnerships. Lahiru Thirimanne added 25 with Thisara Perera, and doubled that with Nuwan Kulasekara. Thirimanne slogged and swished at several deliveries but managed to fetch three boundaries, including one off the final ball. Subtracting the wides, Sri Lanka would have been defending a much lesser score.
Sri Lanka managed only six fours in their innings, hitting the first only in the 12th over. Pakistan gained an early psychological advantage by fetching their first four off the third ball, when Mohammad Hafeez punched Lasith Malinga past the covers.
Malinga soon had Azhar Ali caught off a loose drive, and he continued to create half chances by shaping the ball away from the right-handers.
Kulasekara posed questions by getting the ball to cut back in - his stock delivery - and one of those breached Younus Khan’s defences, leaving Pakistan at 27 for 2.
The pressure created by that dismissal led to three consecutive maidens. Misbah-ul-Haq halted a run-drought that lasted 25 deliveries with a slash past point for four. While Hafeez gave Pakistan the edge with positive shots, including a lofted off-drive for six, what prevented Pakistan from imploding was Misbah’s calm presence. Pakistan were a batsman short, so it was imperative one senior player pitched a tent through the duration of the innings, which Misbah had all but achieved. It was a pressure-free scenario for Umar Akmal to play his strokes, as Pakistan coasted home to extend their recent domination over Sri Lanka, with their sixth win in seven games.
M Jayawardene lbw b Gul 3
T Dilshan c Ajmal b Gul 5
K.Sangakkara lbw b Sami 9
D.Chandimal b Gul 0
U.Tharanga b Hafeez 10
A Mathews c Misbah b Sami 0
L Thirimanne not out 42
T Perera lbw b Hafeez 17
N Kulasekara c Tanvir b Sami 18
R Herath not out 0
EXTRAS: (lb-7 nb-1 w-23) 31
TOTAL: (for eight wickets, 42 overs) 135
FOW: 1-8 2-12 3-25 4-40 5-41 6-56 7-81 8-131.
BOWLING: Gul 9-2-24-3, Tanvir 8-0-30-0, Sami 6-2-19-3, Hafeez 10-3-20-2, Ajmal 5-0-23-0, Afridi 4-2-12-0.
M Hafeez st Sangakkara b Herath 37
Azhar Ali c Sangakkara b Malinga 3
Younus Khan b Kulasekara 5
Misbah-ul-Haq run out 30
Umar Akmal not out 36
Shahid Afridi not out 2
EXTRAS: (b-2 lb-13 w-7) 22
TOTAL: (for four wickets, 34.1 overs) 135
FOW: 1-11 2-27 3-78 4-133.
BOWLING: Malinga 7-2-24-1, Kulasekara 9-3-29-1, Mathews 6-1-18-0, Perera 6.1-0-31-0, Herath 6-0-18-1.