Sri Lanka defend 310 to square series

The varying rhythms of the one-day game were on full display in the second ODI in Hambantota, where the spinners thrived and the quicks toiled in a high-scoring encounter. There were bursts of boundaries alternating with periods of lull, with Sri Lanka’s run-rate sharply increasing and decreasing through their innings, till a final blast lifted them beyond 300. They began in a hurry despite losing early wickets, then counterattacked against the spinners before being becalmed though Mahela Jayawardene and Angelo Mathews had put on a big partnership and lost a bunch of wickets to Mohammad Hafeez only to be bailed out by a brutal Thisara Perera onslaught in the death overs.

No team has ever successfully hunted down more than 300 in Sri Lanka, but Pakistan were bursting with confidence after the back-from-the-dead chase in the first ODI. Though Pakistan lost Sharjeel Khan in the fourth over, Hafeez hit a dazzling half-century that included six boundaries in his first 10 deliveries. With Ahmed Shehzad playing the supporting act, Hafeez tore apart the new-ball bowlers to drive Pakistan to 98 for 1 after 12 overs.

Then came the big squeeze from the Sri Lankan spinners. Seekkuge Prasanna was playing his first ODI since December and had messed up with the bat after being promoted to No. 6, but flourished with the ball, besides being electric in the field. Prasanna and Rangana Herath exploited the help in the surface to string together loads of dot balls to pile the pressure on Pakistan.

After a six-over spell in which only 16 runs were scored, the wickets duly arrived. Hafeez missed a straighter one from Prasanna and was lbw for 62. With only two genuine spinners in the line-up, Sri Lanka turned to the part-time tweakers of Tillakaratne Dilshan. He responded by getting the dangerous Umar Akmal caught behind off his first delivery.

Those wickets resulted in a galloping number of dot balls as Misbah-ul-Haq took time to settle and Shehzad couldn’t force the pace. By the 30th over, Pakistan had played out 100 scoreless deliveries. The quick-thinking Sangakkara produced a breakthrough with another superbly anticipated catch down the leg side when Shehzad went for the lap sweep.

When the Powerplay came along, Sri Lanka belatedly decided that Herath should have the responsibility of bowling three overs in the Powerplay, and not Lasith Malinga. Herath delivered, first dismissing Misbah and then the hero of the first ODI, Sohaib Maqsood.

It wasn’t yet game over as Fawad Alam was still battling, and no one can tell what Shahid Afridi will do. Afridi began with some powerful boundaries, and with the spinners bowled out, Sri Lanka will have just started worrying when he holed out for 17. The tail didn’t last too long and Sri Lanka wrapped up a 77-run victory, though the match was tighter than the margin suggested.

The margin too would have been tighter had Pakistan’s bowlers not lost their way in the final stages of the innings earlier in the evening. After having Sri Lanka down to 194 for 6 in the 38th over, thanks to Hafeez’s triple-strike, they still gave away 80 runs in the final six overs as Perera and Mathews ran amok.

The power-hitting that makes Perera such a valued limited-overs player was in full display as he launched everything in his range over the leg side. From 15 off 18, he rocketed to 57 off 32 as the bowlers wilted under the blaze of big hits. At the 40-over stage, Sri Lanka would have been satisfied with a final score around 275, but the Perera blitz shot them past 300.

Mathews had been less spectacular but his 93 was the knock around which the Sri Lankan innings revolved. After letting Jayawardene dominate a 122-run fourth-innings partnership, and keeping his strike rate below 70 for much of his innings, he opened out with a series of muscular hits over extra cover and towards midwicket at the end. He went past 3000 ODI runs, and had time for a maiden century in the format but he, as so often this year, perished in the 90s.

Jayawardene had been the stand-out performer in the first half of the innings, showing yet again that violent strokeplay was not necessary to score at a pace demanded by modern cricket. He used the lap sweep and the late cut past backward point, he scooted down the track to chip over mid-off and midwicket – there were four fours from him in a five-ball sequence against the spinners, and the pressure built by the early wickets evaporated.

Pakistan needed to capitalise once Hafeez provided the breakthroughs during the Powerplay, but their new-ball bowlers, Junaid Khan and Mohammad Irfan, had days to forget as Sri Lanka ramped up the score to nearly unreachable levels.

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