Fine all-round performances by Shoaib Malik and man of the match Abdul Razzaq guided Pakistan to an exciting four-wicket victory over Sri Lanka in the best match of the Champions Trophy thus far, at the Sawai Mansingh stadium in Jaipur on Tuesday.
On the eve of the match, Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene had said that teams plagued with off-field problems often found a higher gear on the field. The way a depleted Pakistan pulled off victory was testimony to that.
Pakistan scored 47 runs in their last 45 overs to rush to 254 for six in 48.2 overs, after bowling out Sri Lanka for 253.
On a unique day, which saw the Pakistanis cheered on by a near-capacity Indian crowd, Razzaq and Malik delivered the goods when required.
Razzaq played an explosive innings of 38 not out towards the end, including two sixes and two fours, and claimed four wickets to help Pakistan grab two points.
Malik, meanwhile, set up the win with a sedate, unbeaten knock of 46 from 59 balls to go with his two wickets for 34 runs.
Earlier, Sri Lanka squandered a blazing start from Sanath Jayasuriya and were bowled out inside 50 overs.Sri Lanka innings:
Winning the toss, captain Mahela Jayawardene elected to bat; the top order kept a healthy crowd entertained with some big hitting.
With Pakistan bowlers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammed Asif returning home on Monday after testing positive for steroids, it was up to the second-line pace attack to do the early damage. Rao Iftikar Anjum kept a tight line to the left-handed Sri Lankan openers, cramping them for room initially, but the runs came thick and fast from the other end.
Naved-ul-Hasan Rana, the more experienced of the two bowlers, wasn't sharp enough to get Pakistan the breakthrough. The wicket had nothing in it for the faster men and Rana multiplied his problems by spraying the ball around. His first spell of four overs cost 33 runs.
Sanath Jayasuriya, after a couple of inside-edges early on, took apart the insipid Pakistani attack with his fierce cuts and drives on the off-side. Having survived a close caught behind appeal by Rao, Jayasuriya knocked him for a six over long-off in the eighth over.
The Sri Lankan openers plundered 23 runs in two overs (seventh and eighth), giving a big push to the run-rate. But Jayasuriya (48, 35b, 5x4, 2x6) lost his leg stump in the next over while going for a big shot off Rao, after playing another explosive innings. Sharing an opening stand of 63 runs in 9.1 overs, the openers gave Sri Lanka a flying start.
Tharanga and captain Jayawardene kept the momentum going, adding 45 runs for the second wicket. The right-left combination worked with precision, cutting through the gaps and punishing the plenty of bad balls on offer.
The confidence though may have turned into complacence as Tharanga went for an ambitious drive, and a thick edge carried to wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal. Both batsmen went after Abdul Razzaq, whose first two overs went for 22 runs.
But the bowler had the final say as Tharanga was drawn into the drive after hitting two successive fours of just the previous deliveries.
Ironically, Razzaq proved the most successful bowler for Pakistan, finishing with figures of four for 49 from 7.2 overs.
As soon as the power plays were over, Pakistan captain Younis Khan introduced spin at both ends. The move paid dividends as Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik didn't let the Sri Lankan middle-order bloom.
Malik scalped the important wickets of Jayawardene (31) and Kumara Sangakkara (39) to put the skids on the Sri Lankan innings. Jayawardene got a top edge while trying to sweep Malik and holed out to short fine leg while Sangakkara was superbly caught by Rao at mid-on.
Tillekaratne Dilshan fell in the very next over, after Sangakkara, when he was bowled by Afridi for three.
Though the pitch was not assisting the spinners much, the slower bowlers were difficult to play. Afridi, known for his fastish leg-breaks, dropped his pace a yard or two while Malik flighted the ball well to tempt the batsmen into playing their shots.
Most of the Lankan batsmen got starts but none could convert them, spelling the difference between a competitive and a big total.
Atapattu (36) tried to rally with the lower order but was run-out in a mix-up with Maharoof. Having directed a no-ball by Razzaq to point, Atapattu went for a run but was sent back by the non-striker. A direct hit from Hafeez caught the batsman outside of his crease.
The lower order gave up timidly after that, gifting wickets to Razzaq and Hafeez as Pakistan was bowled out for 253 in 49.2 overs.
Muttiah Muralitharan played only two balls but was still entertaining. The first one he faced, he tried to charge down the track, changed his mind and just stood there and padded the ball. The second ball saw him try to sweep and was caught plumb in front of the stumps off Hafeez for no score.
The Pakistani huddle, which made a conspicuous appearance in the field after every Sri Lankan wicket fell, was of symbolic value, but the players had to show true spirit when they came out to bat against an in-form bowling unit.
Young openers Imran Farhat and Mohammed Hafeez got the team off to a confident start. The right-handed Hafeez was the aggressor, slamming Chaminda Vaas for thee boundaries. Lasitha Malinga also began waywardly, bowling down the leg side to the Pakistani openers.
Vaas was unusually expensive in his first spell, going for 36 runs in his six overs, but was able to provide Sri Lanka the breakthrough with the wicket of Hafeez. The left-arm pacer was able to induce an edge from Hafeez and had him caught behind for 22 off 15 balls.
After Hafeez's departure, Farhat took over the reigns, scripting a beautiful innings under lights. The left-hander smoothed down some fluent drives down the off-side and, for the time being, relegated the turmoil surrounding Pakistan cricket onto the sidelines.
Farhat looked at his fluent best when he hit a lofted drive and followed it up with a cover drive off Vaas, off successive deliveries. They were perfectly good balls, but Farhat stepped onto the front foot and took the ball on the up to send it to the boundary.
Younis Khan, reinstated captain after a lot of drama, though could not come to the party and was dismissed cheaply. Farveez Maharoof, who recorded his best figures of six for 14 against the West Indies in Mumbai on Saturday, was right on target on his very first delivery, luring the Pakistan captain into a drive to have him caught behind for seven.
Skipper Jayawardene spilled an easy chance at first slip off Dilhara Fernando, with Farhat on 25. Save that flying edge to first slip, Farhat looked in great touch as he scored the first fifty of the match off 58 balls, including eight boundaries.
Like the Sri Lanka innings, the scoring rate dipped once spin was introduced into the attack. Jayawardene did not take the third power play straightaway and brought Muttiah Muralitharan into play in the 16th over of the innings.
The off-spinner pushed the batsmen on the back foot, kept them glued to the crease and had some close lbw calls. Twice umpire Taufel turned down the appeal, saying that the bowler had obstructed his view.
With the ball keeping lower than in the first innings, Muralitharan and Sanath Jayasuriya were difficult to score off. Their opening spells were also similar; Muralitharan one for 11 from four overs, Jayasuriya one for nine from four overs. Muralitharan had Farhat (53) caught at long-off while Jayasuriya claimed a tentative Afridi for one.
Jaywardene shuffled around his bowlers well, bringing them on for short bursts and never let the Pakistani batsmen settle into a rhythm. Mohammed Yousuf and Shoaib Malik steadied the fumbling innings with a stand of 47 runs for the fifth wicket. The batsmen avoided the big shots but made sure the run-rate did not go down dramatically. Pakistan were able to maintain a rate of above 4.5.
Yousuf narrowly missed a well-deserved 50 as he was run-out while attempting a run off a mis-field. Malik and Akmal, both 24, kept their head down and went about the task coolly. They played out nine overs at a crucial stage, never flustered by the fact that the runs came in a trickle. They pushed their way to 187 for five in 40 overs, giving their side a fair chance of grabbing two points off their first match.
Malik, who is an under-rated cricketer, made his intentions clear in the 42nd over, stepping down the track and spanking Muralitharan into the first-level of the stands, past the mid-wicket fence.
Akmal was out for 20 after Maharoof took a diving catch at deep mid-wicket off Vaas, but the hard-hitting Razzaq swung the match Pakistan's way. He warmed-up with a sizzling cover-drive and then punished the ball murderously to seal the match Pakistan's way.
Even if the ball wasn't in the hitting zone, Razzaq gave it a hard thwack and dismissed it from the sight of the shell-shocked Sri Lankans.
Malik was more than happy to play spectator to Razzaq's pyrotechnics, as the latter made the task look wickedly easy.
Razzaq lofted Fernando over the long-off fence to sing-off in style as the thrilling match came to a hurried end. He finished with 38 runs off 24 balls, with the help of two fours and two sixes, while Malik played out a sedate 46 runs in 59 balls.