Six weeks of doing only the right things

Sri Lanka finally won a final leaving Pakistan to lick its wounds. Arun Venugopal reports.

There were two instances that served as a synopsis of Pakistan’s miserably-harried day in the field against Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup final. Shahid Afridi, not 100 per cent fit, thrust out his leg like a mischievous football defender would to stop a shot from Ashan Priyanjan at mid-on. The meagre effort was in no way going to avert a boundary and even the usually calm Misbah-ul-Haq betrayed a touch of disappointment.

Later, Sharjeel Khan hardly made an attempt to cut down a boundary at deep backward square-leg. That Pakistan’s famed pace-bowling was also shorn of its lethal cloak resulted in a double whammy for the team.

Sri Lanka’s performance, on the other hand, was a study in understated efficiency. It’s, in fact, been the team’s key theme in the tournament. At the top, Kusal Perera and the Man-of-the-Series, Lahiru Thirimanne formed a symbiotic combine. Perera was the Jayasuriya-like hustler, running down oppositions with cold fury. In the final, too, his forearm-fuelled flick-pulls and drives took Umar Gul, Junaid Khan, and Mohammad Talha out of the equation early on. Thirimanne was more in the Sangakkara mould, providing silken brushstrokes to his glides and pulls.

Once Kusal was undone by a Saeed Ajmal special, Mahela Jayawardene found the right stage to return to form. His late-cuts have the stamp of relaxed elegance, and he played them at will. As Sri Lanka continued to relentlessly dismantle Pakistan, it wasn’t too long before Angelo Mathews’s arms were aloft in celebration.

For Pakistan, despite the loss, there was a wonderful story to celebrate. Fawad Alam, whose appearance against Bangladesh was his first ODI in nearly three-and-a-half years, brought his own brand of unorthodoxy to the table with great effect. With a stance that appears to be a cross between that of Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Simon Katich’s, Alam dabbed, chipped, and flat-batted his way to a maiden hundred.

Lasith Malinga, the Man-of-the-Match, unlike in the tournament-opener against Pakistan, did his damage at the start, effectively crippling any resurgence. It was thanks to Alam, Misbah, and later, Umar Akmal that Pakistan raised a decent score.

Sri Lanka skipper Mathews was doubtless pleased. “I am glad we broke that barrier between Sri Lanka and finals. The credit should go to the whole team and they were superb. We had a tremendous six weeks in Bangladesh and we still remain unbeaten. Credit should go to the whole team and the support staff and also the selectors for having faith in us.

We played some very good cricket and I am very happy with the guys performing,” he said.

On whether he was going through the best phase of his career, he agreed. “I can say so. I’m enjoying my cricket, and the team is winning. We want the team to win all the time. It’s not any personal target, but we want to try and contribute all the time you go out to bat or bowl or field.”

Misbah, understandably disappointed, was critical of the bowling, “I think in these kinds of matches you need early wickets, which we didn’t get. Saeed came and gave us good breakthroughs, but you need partnerships in bowling too. From the other end, no one could build that kind of pressure. We bowled on both sides of the wicket too often, when the field wasn’t set there. Because of this, it became easy for them and they comfortably took the match away from us.”

He agreed, however, that there were many positives. “I think the team really played well. Ahmed Shehzad is really playing well, Fawad Alam really played two very good innings. Shahid Afridi played two excellent innings to finish games.

Hafeez is in good touch and Umar Akmal also played some fantastic knocks, so I think these are a lot of positives for our team. We also chased well in two games.”

THE SCORES

Pakistan: Sharjeel c Thisara b Malinga 8, Shehzad c Sangakkara b Malinga 5, Hafeez c Sangakkara b Malinga 3, Misbah c Kusal b Malinga 65, Fawad (not out) 114, Umar Akmal c Priyanjan b Malinga 59, Afridi (not out) 0; Extras (lb-1, w-5): 6; Total (for five wkts. in 50 overs): 260.

Fall of wickets: 1-8, 2-17, 3-18, 4-140, 5-255.

Sri Lanka bowling: Malinga 10-0-56-5, Lakmal 10-2-41-0, Senanayake 9-0-54-0, Thisara 10-1-66-0, Mathews 7-1-23-0, Chaturanga 4-0-19-0.

Sri Lanka: Kusal st. Umar Akmal b Ajmal 42, Thirimanne b Ajmal 101, Sangakkara lbw b Ajmal 0, Jayawardene c Sharjeel b Talha 75, Priyanjan c Umar Akmal b Junaid 13, Mathews (not out) 16, Chaturanga (not out) 6; Extras (b-1, lb-1, w-5, nb-1): 8; Total (for five wkts. in 46.2 overs): 261.

Fall of wickets: 1-56, 2-56, 3-212, 4-233, 5-247.

Pakistan bowling: Hafeez 9-0-42-0, Gul 6-0-44-0, Junaid 9-0-56-1, Ajmal 10-2-26-3, Talha 6.2-0-56-1, Afridi 6-0-35-0.