Sharjah: It was only a matter of time until Pakistan’s method yielded a heavy victory in the series. As their batsmen conformed to the blueprint they had laid down in the first two matches, Pakistan hit their second mammoth score in three innings, to sink Sri Lanka by 113 runs.
Mohammad Hafeez was again the architect of the victory, shifting from stable at the outset to sublime at the finish on his way to a career-best 140 not out off 136 balls. Following torrid series against South Africa, Hafeez has come upon an approach that has brought a personal change in fortune and lit his team’s path to top-order reliability as well. He had hit only one four in his first 36 balls at the crease, but in a furious finish he walloped seven fours and a six off his last 26 balls, leading Pakistan’s plunder of 105 in the last 10 overs, and the team score to 326 for 5.
Tillakaratne Dilshan reclaimed fluency at the top of Sri Lanka’s innings to sail to his sixth score over fifty in the last eight ODI innings, but Umar Gul’s return after nine months mending his knee imbued a venomous edge to the Pakistan attack, particularly with the new ball. Gul struck twice in his second over to pin Sri Lanka down, and though the visitors threatened resurgence, no pair could resist Pakistan for long. They were bowled out in the 45th over, with the required run-rate having floated up to the early twenties.
They might have had fewer to chase had Lasith Malinga held on to a simple chance at long-on off Hafeez in the 18th over. Hafeez’s progress thereafter was as silken as the first phase of his knock was stubborn. Gaps square of the wicket were his staple, but on another terrific batting track that exposed Sri Lanka’s inability to penetrate, he was fearless, yet calculated in attack as well. He used his feet to hit the spinners over the leg side as a matter of routine, and he pounced on abundant poor balls from Sri Lanka’s allround seam bowlers.
Ahmed Shehzad had been the first to hit out, and the pair forged a 162-run stand for the second wicket, at the end of which a score in excess of 300 seemed an inevitability.
This, after they Pakistan made their most sedate start of the series, thanks in large part to the movement Nuwan Kulasekara generated with the new ball. Only one boundary had been hit in the first seven overs, which yielded only 18 runs. In that time Pakistan had also lost Sharjeel Khan to Kulasekara, with the score on 2.
Pakistan had been 62 for 1 after 15 overs, but Shehzad and Hafeez scored 100 off the next 95 balls, finding easy runs into the outfield and peppering the long-on ropes with aplomb. Shehzad reached his fifty in 57 balls, and by the time Lasith Malinga ran him out for 81 in the 31st over, Pakistan was scoring at well over five runs an over.
Sohaib Maqsood showcased talent and inexperience in equal measure during his run-a-ball 21, that featured fine strokes but an injudicious attempt for a third six in the 39th over. After Maqsood fell, Misbah-ul-Haq was the unlikely source of a cameo, as Pakistan sought to reap the benefits of their solidity in the first three-quarters of the innings. His 26-ball 40 featured three fours and two sixes – largely off the seamers – while Hafeez too kicked up an already rising run rate into overdrive.
Sri Lanka have been unimaginative with the ball throughout the series, and yorkers once again seemed their only defence against death-over aggression. But even that ploy might have yielded results, had they managed to find the blockhole with acceptable regularity. Malinga was the only fast bowler to finish with an economy rate under six, as Hafeez, and later Umar Akmal feasted on mediocre lengths at the climax. Kulasekara was the worst offender. After having conceded only 19 from his first six overs, he surrendered 48 from his last four.
Sri Lanka’s troubles were compounded by the two early Gul strikes. They needed seniors Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara to post a triple-figure stand to set the chase properly on track. Prolific though they have been together over the last two years, they parted ways much too early on this occasion. Sangakkara pulled Junaid Khan to square leg with the score on 44, and it was a steep ask for Dilshan to lead a heist after that. He still swashbuckled his way to 59 off 62, before Shahid Afridi bowled him.
Gul’s early strikes had also allowed Misbah to reserve Saeed Ajmal’s overs until the 25th over, and Hafeez until the 28th. Together they choked out what remained of the resistance. Dinesh Chandimal got his third start of the series, in somewhat unconvincing fashion, but got out trying to slog Hafeez.
Angelo Mathews began slowly and then tonked a few big blows as the required rate ballooned, but wickets continued to fall to spin at the other end, and Sri Lanka’s chances wore thin. Gul bowled Malinga to finish with 3 for 19, and Pakistan took a 2-1 lead in the series.
Mathews had won the toss and bowled first on a terrific batting strip again, fearing the late-evening dew that had hampered Sri Lanka’s bowlers in the Twenty20 series. He may rethink that strategy after dew failed to materialise in each of the ODIs so far, just as Misbah had predicted at the toss.
Pakistan 326 for 5 (Hafeez 140*, Shehzad 81) beat Sri Lanka 213 (Dilshan 59, Gul 3-19) by 113 runs