On his 40th birthday, the last thing that Kumar Sangakkara would have wanted to see was another abject batting performance from Sri Lanka. The kind of start Sri Lanka made to their innings would have made him feel proud but the way they collapsed at the death would have almost made him reconsider his decision to quit the sport. Such was the sad state of affairs as Sri Lanka went on to lose eight wickets in the space of 18 runs after being sent into bat on Friday (October 27). They eventually ended up with just 124 for 9 in 20 overs
At one stage during the chase, it seemed as if the total would prove to be just enough. Shadab Khan, though, spoiled Sri Lanka’s party in the final over of an absorbing game, taking Pakistan to a two-wicket win polishing off 12 needed in the last over. The win sparked massive celebrations as the hosts clinched the series with a game to spare.
Sri Lanka did come out with a different plan though at the start as the think-tank realised that it wasn’t a surface where a team can go berserk right from the outset. The openers put on a calm display and their tactics were evident in the very first over bowled by Imad Wasim. After trying to take him on in the opening over of the first T20I, the openers were content on playing him out. Danushka Gunathilaka then got his first boundary of an inside edge and followed it with a slap over the mid-off fielder.
Dilshan Munaweera then got into the act as he first swept Imad and punched Usman Khan down the ground. Gunathilaka then came up with the shot of the powerplay as he deposited Hasan Ali for a six with a crisp flick over square leg. Even though the openers came through the powerplay unscathed, Pakistan struck immediately courtesy of a run out, Munaweera being the victim, to break the opening stand. It was the first of many run outs on the night.
Sadeera Samarawickrama played the ideal foil to Gunathilaka as the duo slowly motored along at six an over. The plan was crystal clear – preserve wickets and switch gears at the death. When these two fetched 13 runs off the 13th over to up the ante, it appeared as if the plan was going as per the script. But what followed soon after was nothing short of disaster once the total went past 100. While Samarawickrama became victim to another run out in the 17th over, the half-centurion Gunathilaka found the fielder while attempting a reverse sweep in the same over.
The two hitters Seekkuge Prasanna and Thisara Perera failed to inject momentum and fell cheaply as well and then Fahim Ashraf jolted them further with a hat-trick out of nowhere. Isuru Udana was the first one to fall after Hasan Ali picked up a superb catch at short fine. Mahela Udawatte was caught at square leg by Babar Azam while Dasun Shanaka was trapped lbw off a delivery that just zipped in to the batsman after pitching. It was the first time a Pakistani bowler went on to pick up a hat-trick in the format.
Despite going through an excellent run in limited-overs cricket, Pakistan ideally wanted their openers to spend some time out in the middle and deliver. With both Fakhar Zaman and Ahmed Shehzad struggling for runs, a target of 125 seemed to be ideal for them to get back to form. They raced to 23 in the first three overs but a bit of indecisiveness from Shehzad cost Zaman his wicket as Sri Lanka found a lifeline via a run out. Luck seemed to be on their side as two balls later, a bad judgement, this time from the umpire, cost Babar his wicket as he was wrongly adjudged lbw.
There was still no reason to panic though as Pakistan’s middle order was their strength as it had the three experienced campaigners – Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez and Sarfraz Ahmed. But with a scratchy Malik edging one behind off Perera, Sri Lanka sensed a huge opportunity. A busy Sarfraz then tilted the balance in Pakistan’s favour with a little cameo that brought down the equation to 35 off 30.
Hafeez then complicated matters with a pretty ordinary shot that found the fielder at long on but it was the skipper’s final over that once again turned the game on its head. After bowling one full that trapped Imad lbw, Perera kept it tight and eventually saw Sarfraz fall short of his crease while attempting a second. Udana’s penultimate over set the game up nicely but Gunathilaka’s costly drop combined with Shadab’s stunning six sealed the deal for Pakistan.
Brief scores: Sri Lanka 124/9 in 20 overs (Danushka Gunathilaka 51, Sadeera Samarawickrama 32; Fahim Ashraf 3-16, Hasan Ali 2-31) lost to Pakistan 125/8 in 19.5 overs (Sarfraz Ahmed 28, Ahmed Shehzad 27; Thisara Perera 3-24, Isuru Udana 1-17) by two wickets.