By Dinouk Colombage
Co-hosts Sri Lanka took on potential world champions Pakistan at the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. Prior to the game the media believed that this encounter would prove to be one of the tighter games, and they were not mistaken.
Winning the toss and choosing the bat first the Pakistan openers got off to a flyer, attacking everything that the Sri Lanka bowlers threw at them. However it was not long before Ahmed Shehzad was removed by Thisara Perera for 13. Mohammed Hafeez and Kamran Akmal combined to put on 48 runs in 6.4 overs. They had set the tone early and clearly showed that they were going to take the attack to the Sri Lankans. The introduction of Muttiah Muralitharan got the desired result, although not in the manner they expected, with Hafeez being run out for 32. Kamran Akmal perished not long after, leaving Pakistan at 105 for 3 with still 30 overs to go. The two mainstays of the Sri Lankan line-up, Younis Khan and Misbah ul-Haq put on a 107 run partnership, setting the stage for a late onslaught. The lower order combined to put on an aggressive total of 277 which saw 72 for Younis Khan and Misbah ul-Haq remaining not out on 83. Skipper Shahid Afridi provided the late fireworks with a quick fire 16. For Sri Lanka having been expecting to chase a score in excess of 300 they would have been satisfied with the end of the innings. The pick of the bowlers was Muttiah Muralitharan, who finished with figures of 10 overs, no maidens and 1 wicket for 35 runs. The lack of a third front line seamer clearly hurt Sri Lanka with Angelo Mathews conceding 56 runs in his 10 overs, while picking up the solitary wicket.
The total was on the board and now it was up to the Pakistan bowlers to defend this total, for Sri Lanka they would have backed their batsmen at chasing down this total. The openers got off to solid start putting on 76 in 14.2 overs. The Pakistan bowlers kept a tight line and length, without causing too much discomfort to the batsmen. The introduction of the slower men had the result Afridi would have been eying as Mohammed Hafeez broke though dismissing Upul Tharanga for 33. This wicket appeared to open the floodgates as the Sri Lankan batsmen struggled to come to terms with the leg-spin of Shahid Afridi and the pace of Shoaib Akhtar. The Pakistan skipper led from the front picking up 4 wickets for 34 runs in his 10 overs. This destructive spell meant the sturdy middle order of Sri Lanka failed to make any impact. Kumar Sangakarra and Chamara Silva came together with the score on 96 and added 63 runs in 16.2 overs. This once renewed the hopes of both the Sri Lankan team and supporters as they entered the last ten overs with 5 wickets remaining. However, Afridi returned to Angelo Mathews and thereby effectively sealed the outcome of the game. There was still a few twists towards the end as the tailenders with Chamara Silva continued to hit the boundaries. Needing 18 off the last over, the spectators still felt that there was a chance, however a good tight final over by Umar Gul closed out the game for Pakistan. Shahid Afridi was adjudged man of the match for his bowling performance.
Sri Lanka will be taking on Kenya on Tuesday at R. Premadasa stadium.