Lankans hold their nerves

Rangana Herath (centre), who bowled brilliantly, is greeted by team-mates after the dismissal of Shahid Afridi.-PICS. K.R. DEEPAK Rangana Herath (centre), who bowled brilliantly, is greeted by team-mates after the dismissal of Shahid Afridi.

Much to the delight of its ardent fans, Sri Lanka won by 16 runs, a margin that seemed distant when the men from the Emerald Isle managed only 139 for four. K.C. Vijaya Kumar reports.

Exactly 120 minutes before the ICC World Twenty20 semifinal against a daunting rival, the Pakistan squad got into a huddle at the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo on October 4. Coach Dav Whatmore stood in the centre, gave a pep talk and once the animated discussion was over, he stepped aside and then captain Mohammad Hafeez took over the ‘rousing-of-the-troops’ act.

Once the medley of advice in English and Urdu got over, the Pakistani players warmed-up for one of their biggest battles in recent times. A semifinal bout against Sri Lanka in its own backyard is a challenge that can test the best of teams even during a purple patch and for mercurial Pakistan the task was even more arduous.

The visitor did hold the reins during the match’s first-half, but the shards of doubt and suicidal tendencies within its batting line-up reared again and much to the delight of its ardent fans, Sri Lanka won by 16 runs, a margin that seemed distant when the men from the Emerald Isle managed only 139 for four. In reply, Pakistan scored 123 for seven and as Umar Akmal shook his head and bat in dismay, all that Hafeez’s men could do was to advance their return tickets.

Sri Lanka’s usually fail-safe template of batting first and then letting loose its spinners during the chase, was again enacted. And Mahela Jayawardene led from the front as he gave up the tactical captaincy-swap he made with Kumar Sangakkara in the earlier Super Eights match against England. “This is the semifinal. I wanted to lead Sri Lanka and with spinners bowling I thought we will have a check on our over-rate,” Jayawardene reasoned.

Leading from the front... Mahela Jayawardene made a 36 ball 42 to take his team to a respectable total.-

The captain found luck with the toss and promptly slipped into his opener’s role with aplomb. Jayawardene’s 42 (36b, 7x4) was a lesson in how to distract spinners away from their avowed goal to slip the noose on the willow wielders. Hafeez’s reliance on Raza Hasan, Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi was tested to the hilt as Jayawardene found his fours behind the wicket with scoops and reverse-hits. “I wasn’t generating much pace off the wicket for the straight shots so I relied on the horizontal shots. In these situations you got to back yourself,” Jayawardene said.

Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, Jayawardene’s dismissal, Sangakkara’s too brief a tenure and Tillekeratne Dilshan’s sluggish knock, all combined to pull down the scoring rate. For Pakistan, Umar Gul bowled a fine spell though he was caned in the last over. It was left for the Pakistan batsmen to finish the expected job but their plans were soon in a shambles. Wickets fell in clusters and though Hafeez (42), leading a charmed existence thanks to two dropped catches on seven and 24, tried to be the anchor of Pakistan’s dreams, the desired effect never took shape.

Angelo Mathews and left-arm spinner Rangana Herath prised out key wickets and that too in stacks of two each in the 10th and 15th overs and the visitor lost its way.

Hafeez later said: “I am proud of the way my team fought through the tournament. We lost the match because our middle-order failed.” And more than the painful recounting of the loss, the Pakistan skipper was forced into a corner while he tried to explain his continued faith in ‘match-winner’ Afridi, whose first-ball blob, was a reflection of poor individual form that further hastened a team’s fall towards terra-firma.

THE SCORES

Sri Lanka: M. Jayawardene c Hasan b Afridi 42; T. Dilshan lbw b Gul 35; K. Sangakkara c Malik b Hafeez 18; J. Mendis st. K. Akmal b Ajmal 15; T. Perera (not out) 11; A. Mathews (not out) 10. Extras (b-3, w-4, nb-1) 8. Total (for four wkts., in 20 overs): 139.

Fall of wickets: 1-63, 2-84, 3-117, 4-118.

Pakistan bowling: Tanvir 3-0-11-0, Hasan 4-0-26-0, Ajmal 4-0-33-1, Afridi 4-0-28-1, Hafeez 2-0-12-1, Gul 3-0-26-1.

Pakistan: M. Hafeez st. Sangakkara b Herath 42; I. Nazir b Ajantha 20; N. Jamshed lbw b Mathews 4; K. Akmal c Jayawardene b Mathews 1; S. Malik b Herath 6; U. Akmal (not out) 29; S. Afridi b Herath 0; S. Tanvir st. Sangakkara b A. Mendis 8; U. Gul (not out) 2. Extras (lb-2, w-9) 11. Total (for seven wkts., in 20 overs): 123.

Fall of wickets: 1-31, 2-55, 3-57, 4-64, 5-91, 6-91, 7-113.

Sri Lanka bowling: Mathews 4-0-27-2, Kulasekara 3-0-15-0, Malinga 4-0-19-0, A. Mendis 4-0-27-2, Perera 1-0-8-0, Herath 4-0-25-3.