Herath central to Sri Lanka success
Rangana Herath justified his recall by claiming three wickets as Sri Lanka booked their place in the World Twenty20 final with a tense 16-run victory over Pakistan at Colombo’s Premadasa Stadium.
To the delight of an enthusiastic crowd, the host nation successfully defended a total of 139 for four, underpinned by skipper Mahela Jayawardene’s 42, on a slow surface that made scoring difficult.
Herath, called up as a late replacement for Akila Dananjaya, was chiefly responsible for Pakistan’s struggles with the bat. After bowling Shoaib Malik with a peach of a delivery, the left-arm spinner accounted for Mohammad Hafeez, who matched his opposing captain’s score, and Shahid Afridi with successive deliveries.
Sri Lanka’s death bowlers then held their nerve, with Lasith Malinga conceding just four in the penultimate over to leave 23 needed from the last. Nuwan Kulasekara gave up a mere six as Pakistan finished on 123 for seven.
“It’s an amazing feeling; I’m really proud of the boys,” said Jayawardene. “There’s just one more hurdle for us to cross now.
“We’re a proud nation, a proud cricketing nation - and everybody will be behind us on Sunday, so I’m quite looking forward to that.”
It was no surprise to see Jayawardene opt to bat first upon winning the toss, with a lack of pace and bounce evident in the preceding women’s semi-final between England and New Zealand.
The diminutive opener’s response to the conditions was exemplary. A host of sweeps, both conventional and reverse, enabled him to dash along at more than a run a ball and put Sri Lanka in the driving seat.
Jayawardene’s eagerness to premeditate eventually led to his downfall when he scooped Shahid Afridi to short fine-leg in the 11th over, ending a stand of 63 with Tillakaratne Dilshan, who struggled to impose himself in a subdued innings of 35.
Kumar Sangakkara looked in excellent form before holing out to long-on off Hafeez, while Dilshan fell in the 18th over, lbw to Umar Gul soon after the paceman had been denied the wicket of Jeevan Mendis when replays showed he had overstepped.
Mendis was duly stumped attempting to cut the unusually expensive Saeed Ajmal, but Sri Lanka took 16 from Gul’s final over through Angelo Mathews and Thisara Perera.
Pakistan found it tough to break the shackles in reply and lost their first wicket to the final delivery of the powerplay as Imran Nazir, dropped on nought by a diving Dilshan at backward-point, played defensively against Ajantha Mendis, only to see the ball roll back on to his stumps.
After Hafeez had survived a tough chance to Herath in the deep, Mathews then struck twice in the space of four balls. Nasir Jamshed was unfortunate to fall lbw to a ball that pitched outside leg, while Kamran Akmal offered up a simple catch to short midwicket.
When Herath spun one past Shoaib Malik’s edge to take off stump, Pakistan were rocking and their situation would have been worse had Malinga held a simple chance at long-on to account for Hafeez on 24.
The error mattered little, for Herath then had Hafeez stumped before deceiving Afridi with an arm ball that bowled the all-rounder via inside edge.
Sangakkara was called into action again when Sohail Tanvir gave Ajantha Mendis the charge, and there was to be no way back for Pakistan.