Pakistan blaze home

Pakistan sealed a comfortable victory in the first of their three daynight ODIs against Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi, getting home comfortably by 5 wickets with 8 overs to spare on the back of an extraordinary innings from Shahid Afridi. The result meant a victory in his maiden game as captain for Shoaib Malik and a much-needed pick-up after the horrors of the team’s World Cup campaign.

The Sri Lankans rested several members of their World Cup party, including Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara and Marvan Atapattu, while the Pakistanis recalled Salman Butt, Yasir Hameed and Mohammad Asif to their team. Shoaib Akhtar remains on the sidelines, however.

Malik had lost his first toss and been forced to take the field, but he showed he is unlikely to be afraid to take unconventional decisions, electing to throw the new ball to Mohammad Sami instead of Umar Gul. The move failed to pay dividends, Sami’s first spell returning unimpressive figures of 5-23-0, but Asif, once again, slotted back into international cricket as if he’d never been away. Trapping Sanath Jayasuriya lbw in his 2nd over, Asif’s opening spell yielded an exemplary 8-16-1 and settled any nerves. By that time Upul Tharanga had been beaten by Butt’s excellent throw going for a second run and Gul, despite conceding 19 in his first 2 overs, had deceived Chamara Kapugedera, promoted to number three in the new-look line-up, with a slower ball which the 20-year-old dragged into his stumps. When Mahela Jayawardene was caught behind off the same bowler, the Sri Lankans were 72/4 in the 20th over.

Chamara Silva and Tillakaratne Dilshan, not for the first time, were charged with rebuilding the Lankan innings, and looked good for a while, but just as the momentum was beginning to shift, Dilshan played too early on a ball from Abdul Razzaq, got a leading-edge and was caught by Gul at mid-on. Prasanna Jayawardene, too, looked in good touch, with three well-struck boundaries, but when he had reached 20 Silva called him for a single to Imran Nazir at point and the fielder hit the stumps direct with Jayawardene well short of his ground. At 141/6 after 34, consolidation was required.

Gul, Razzaq and, after an expensive start, Afridi had bowled well through the middle of the innings, just 11 boundaries coming between overs 20 and 40, while Asif returned to finish his spell. Just as Chamara Silva and Farveez Maharoof were preparing to launch, however, Pakistan struck with a run-out for the third time, this time Imran Nazir the man responsible. Despite this setback, however, Maharoof once again demonstrated his ability to strike the ball at the death, finishing unbeaten on 69 off just 54 balls and ensuring the Lankans took 50 off the last 8 overs, including 14 from Gul in the 50th, and set a defensible target of 236.

Imran Nazir approached the task aggressively, racing to 38 off just 24 balls despite an injury which required a runner. That runner, Afridi, promptly ran out his batsman, as a suicidal attempt at a third run found him well short. Butt and Hameed then struggled against some typically tight Sri Lankan spin and some composed bowling from 29-year-old debutant seamer Ishara Amerasinghe. Mohammad Yousuf and the captain fared little better, before a superb delivery from Maharoof, who was expensive throughout the innings, removed Yousuf and, remarkably, the sixth run-out of the day saw the end of Malik’s first innings as captain, once more taking on an impossible third run. At this point, with Pakistan 1375 and the required rate closing in on 5-and-a-half an over, the game was in the balance.

Kamran Akmal, however, was a man with some debt to make-up after something approaching an annus horribilis, and he initially took the lead role in his partnership with Afridi. Once the man they call Boom Boom had swatted Jayasuriya for two boundaries in the 36th over, however, the game swung rapidly Pakistan’s way, despite a maiden from Lasith Malinga in the 38th. Malinga Bandara, however, was then taken for 32 – 446666 – and after that there was only one winner. There was time for Afridi to be dropped by the debutant the over before victory as the ball escaped his grasp as he fell to the ground. A no-ball from Maharoof was struck to the boundary by Akmal and Pakistan celebrated with gusto. With memories of the World Cup exit, still less than two months ago, it was hard to blame them.

Sri Lanka 235-9 (50)
Farveez Maharoof 69*, Chamara Silva 47
Mohammad Asif 1-26, Umar Gul 3-61

Pakistan 239-5 (42)
Shahid Afridi 73*, Kamran Akmal 51*

Pakistan won by 8 wickets

Cricket Web Man Of The Match: Shahid Afridi

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