Afridi leads Pakistan past Sri Lanka
Shahid Afridi starred with the ball once again as Pakistan battled to a slender 11-run victory over co-hosts Sri Lanka in a thrilling clash at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo.
Afridi, who returned outstanding figures of 5-16 in his side’s opening win over Kenya, picked up 4-34 from 10 overs on this occasion - and also became only the third Pakistan player to reach 300 one-day international wickets - as Sri Lanka were restricted to 266 for nine in pursuit of 278.
Sri Lanka’s run-chase was undermined by a top-order collapse that saw four wickets fall for 20 runs after an encouraging opening stand of 76.
From then on, they were unable to keep up with the required run-rate, with Chamara Silva taking an age to find his feet en route to 57 from 78 balls - the highest score of the innings.
Misbah-ul-Haq and Younus Khan had made the most significant contributions in Pakistan’s total of 277 for seven as they amassed 83 not out and 72 respectively.
Sri Lanka kept a measure of control throughout the innings, not least through veteran spinner Muttiah Muralitharan whose 1-35 from 10 overs made him the second highest wicket-taker in World Cup history with 56. He moved clear of Wasim Akram but remains 15 behind Glenn McGrath.
Pakistan were unable to make an early breakthrough in the field and both Upul Tharanga and Tillakaratne Dilshan opened their shoulders when the bowling powerplay was taken at the earliest opportunity with the score on 42.
Umar Gul saw one over taken for 16, but Pakistan received a welcome boost in the 15th over as Tharanga, on 33, drove Mohammad Hafeez to Shahid Afridi at cover.
It was not long before Dilshan played on for 41 as he attempted to cut Afridi’s third ball. Mahela Jayawardene was then bowled through the gate by Shoaib Akhtar before Afridi struck again to remove Thilan Samaraweera, who was stumped after lunging forward to a flighted delivery that spun sharply.
Skipper Kumar Sangakkara steadied the ship alongside Chamara Silva, although the scoring rate dropped significantly during their fifth-wicket stand of 73 and 144 runs were still needed by the time the batting powerplay was taken at the start of the 34th over.
Pakistan did not help themselves in the field, with wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal spurning two chances to stump Sangakkara off leg-side deliveries and Abdur Rehman putting down a simple catch at deep midwicket after Silva had top-edged a pull.
However, just as the home side looked to be regaining some momentum, Afridi returned to the attack and had opposite number Sangakkara caught at long-on for 49 as the left-hander played an ugly cross-batted heave.
Silva finally found the accelerator as the match drew to a close, but Afridi removed Angelo Mathews for 18 to keep Pakistan in the box seat.
Thisara Perera was then bowled by Shoaib before Silva finally departed, stumped off a Rehman wide.
Nuwan Kulasekara thumped 24 from 14 balls to take the match to the wire, but he departed to the penultimate ball of the innings as Pakistan held on.
Against an attack still shorn of Lasith Malinga, Pakistan had scored in excess of a run a ball in the opening powerplay despite the loss of Ahmed Shehzad, who was caught behind off Perera.
Sri Lanka benefited from immediately taking the bowling powerplay, which yielded only 14 runs and the loss of Hafeez, who was run out from Muralitharan’s first ball following a mix-up with Kamran.
Kamran initially made amends with some authoritative strokeplay until an injudicious heave off Rangana Herath, who was preferred to Ajantha Mendis, saw him stumped for 39.
Younus and Misbah exhibited the responsibility Kamran lacked and their patient approach rebuilt the innings courtesy of an 108-run stand typified by regular strike rotation.
That ended when Younus, attempting to accelerate having only struck one boundary, top-edged a sweep off Herath’s penultimate delivery to short fine-leg to fall for 72 from 76 balls.
Umar Akmal could not provide the impetus Pakistan desired in the batting powerplay and he departed to a rare short Muralitharan delivery, which a diving Dilshan held at deep midwicket.
Afridi offered typical late gusto before uppercutting Mathews to point and Abdul Razzaq followed suit when he skied the last delivery of the innings - a Perera full-toss.
Although Afridi deservedly claimed the match award, he was keen to pay tribute to Misbah and Younus for their efforts with the bat.
"It was a big game. But the way Misbah and Younus played - it was beautiful and very mature,” said the skipper, whose side were fined for a slow over rate.
“The boys were a bit relaxed (in the field) but we will make up for the lapse in the next games.”
Losing captain Sangakkara admitted his side’s batting collapse had proved costly.
"We got a good start, and needed players to bat long. But we lost three wickets at the wrong time," the wicketkeeper-batsman said.