Pakistan overcome the odds

Their captain is serving a three-match suspension, there was controversy surrounding the appoinment of a stand-in captain and two of their best bowlers were sent home earlier in the week for failing a drugs test, but Pakistan overcame all of this to bring the Champions Trophy to life with an impressive win over Sri Lanka at Jaipur. Their successful chase of a score in excess of 250 was what was needed to bring some excitement to a tournament that had so far seen two very low-scoring matches on slightly dubious pitches without particularly close or exciting finishes. This was quite the opposite.

Memories of the low scores in the first two matches of the tournament were quickly swept away within the first ten overs of the match by Sanath Jayasuriya, whose big-hitting exploits are renowned throughout the world by cricket fans and feared by bowlers. While partner Upul Tharanga was still navigating his way through to double figures, Jayasuriya bludgeoned his way through to 48 in the first nine overs of the match with five fours and two sixes. His destructive start to the innings dealt a savage blow to the already-damaged morale of the Pakistan side due to the absence of not only captain Inzamam-ul-Haq but also two of their best bowlers in Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif.

It could be forgiven in the circumstances if the weakened Pakistani bowling attack had crumbled against this onslaught. But to their credit they did not lie down and clawed their way back from a position of conceding a run rate of close to seven an over to bring themselves back into contention. First Jayasuriya’s 35-ball knock was brought to an end by Iftikhar Anjum, for whom the rattle of the ball hitting the stumps came as slight consolation for the severe damage done to his bowling figures earlier in the spell.

From then on Pakistan never allowed any truly substantial partnerships to be built, with a number of 30-40 run stands being brought to an end by a timely strike, and no Sri Lankan batsmen were allowed to reach 50. Whenever a batsman looked on track to get there they were undone by an excellent piece of cricket by a side that a couple of weeks ago were strong contenders in the tournament but had suddenly become underdogs against a team who were required to go through the qualifying rounds to reach the main draw of the tournament.

The leading wicket-taker for Pakistan was all-rounder Abdul Razzaq, who put an end to the in-form Tharanga’s promising 38 as well as taking three other wickets, and Shoaib Malik, who took the just as crucial wickets of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara for 31 and 39 respectively. A bowler whose efforts should not be overlooked however is Mohammad Hafeez, who not only picked up a wicket but was absolutely instrumental in stemming the flow of runs, conceding just 24 in his spell of seven overs. The final wicket of the innings was fittingly taken by Razzaq, who finished with figures of 4-50, in the 50th over. Sri Lanka’s final score was 253, which although a refreshing change from the sub-200 scores seen so far in the tournament was probably slightly disappointing considering the stunning start they had to their innings. For this they partly had themselves to blame for not being able to convert good starts into big scores, and a couple of rash shots leading to dismissals, but credit needs to be given to the Pakistan attack, who conceded just one boundary in the last 11 overs in an excellent display of tight line and length bowling.

The early part of Pakistan’s chase saw them scoring at a rate that was more than sufficient to see them through to their total, including a rapid opening partnership of 39 runs in the first five overs. But like the Sri Lankans before them, Pakistan regularly had their momentum checked by the fall of a wicket. Mohammad Hafeez fell early in the innings after a quick 22, stand-in captain and batsman on which the team often heavily relies Younis Khan managed just seven and Shahid Afridi one, while Imran Farhat played brilliantly to get a half-century only to fall for 53.

At the 25 over mark the score was 125-4, meaning that Pakistan required 129 from 150 balls. A simple enough equation in terms of runs, but with four wickets down already and the conspicious gap left in the middle order by Inzamam’s absence it became a more difficult task. Someone was going to be required to step up, and it was not surprising that the most likely candidate appeared to be Mohammad Yousuf. In a patient 78-ball innings, he rotated the strike beautifully and kept the run rate where it needed to be. Unfortunately he was run out in disastrous circumstances for 49 when after safely completing two runs he wanted to run a third when the fielder misfielded the ball but was sent back by Shoaib Malik and was too late to make his ground. This left the score at 161-5 and the match very evenly poised.

Another promising partnership followed between Shoaib and wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal, but again once it reached forty it was broken, the wicket of Kamran taken by the ever-reliable Vaas for 20. At this point the number of runs required was higher than the number of balls remaining for the first time in the match, but the new batsman was none other than Abdul Razzaq, one of the finest hitters late in an innings in ODI cricket. Shoaib meanwhile had made his way through to 40 from 54 balls with only one boundary.

Into the last five overs of the innings, 36 runs required from 30 balls. Early in the 46th over Razzaq showed his intentions by cracking a four to move into double figures and make the equation slightly easier. 7 runs came from that over, meaning 29 were needed from 24. The 47th over, bowled by Vaas, saw the crucial point of the match, something that we have seen from Abdul Razzaq on countless occasions in the past. A huge, towering six over long off, backed up by a four two balls later from Shoaib, leading to a total of 13 runs from the over and the equation being reduced to just 16 runs from the last three overs. The bowlers had no answer to Razzaq, who was hitting every ball out of the middle of his bat. He started the 48th over with two runs from the first ball, then followed that up with yet another four from the second to bring the number of runs required for a hugely morale-boosting win for Pakistan to just ten, which quickly became five, and the result quickly became a formality.

It was a thrilling match, one dominated by two players for Pakistan. Abdul Razzaq took four wickets with the ball and played the decisive innings with the bat, once again producing his characteristically heroic deeds late in an innings to not only change the result of the bat but give bowlers nightmares for many years to come. His 38 runs came from just 24 balls and swung the momentum permanently in his team’s favour. The other crucial player was Shoaib Malik, who took two wickets and played a quiet but absolutely vital innings of 46 not out from just 59 balls, hitting only two boundaries but rotating the strike and accumulating runs comfortably throughout his innings. It should be noted though that if Pakistan had lost this match he may have been the target of criticism rather than praise for his involvement in the run out of Mohammad Yousuf.

This was a win Pakistan sorely needed after their somewhat chaotic buildup to the tournament. They rose to the occasion and it was an excellent performance, one that needs to be repeated however in their next match against New Zealand, who impressively beat South Africa yesterday. That match is played on Friday.

Sri Lanka 253 all out
Sanath Jayasuriya 48, Kumar Sangakkara 39
Abdul Razzaq 4-50, Shoaib Malik 2-34

Pakistan 255-6
Imran Farhat 53, Shoaib Malik 46 no
Chaminda Vaas 2-61, Sanath Jayasuriya 1-33

Pakistan won by 4 wickets.

Cricket Web Player of the Match – Abdul Razzaq – 4-50, 38(24)

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