Malinga five-for cuts Pakistan short

Wednesday, 26 February 2014 00:05 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

ESPNcricinfo: Lasith Malinga reasserted his skill for rattling chases in a tight finish, after Lahiru Thirimanne had proclaimed his relevance to the ODI format, as Sri Lanka sputtered to a thrilling win in the Asia Cup opener in Fatullah. Pakistan lost their top order cheaply, surged, collapsed, then surged briefly again, in search of 297, but the total that had been set up by Thirimanne’s 102 was 12 too many, despite half-centuries from Misbah-ul-Haq and Umar Akmal. Malinga’s 5 for 52 was his first in ODIs since January 2012, as he claimed the two last Pakistan scalps in an unflappable 49th over replete with tailing yorkers. Bilawal Bhatti and Saeed Ajmal had managed 17 runs from the previous over to whittle the requirement down to 17 from two overs, but Ajmal was caught in front by a yorker, and Bhatti had one clatter into his off stump. Bhatti’s wicket was Malinga’s 250th, and he achieved the milestone faster than any other Sri Lanka bowler, beating Muttiah Muralitharan by 11 matches. Pakistan had earlier seemed in control, with 55 needed off 46 balls and six wickets in hand, thanks to the 121-run stand between Misbah and Akmal. But Malinga was vital to quelling that charge too. He struck twice in four balls in the 45th over, to swing the match strongly in Sri Lanka’s favour, before dismissing Umar Gul in his next. All of his wickets came in his last 15 balls. Thirimanne’s 161-run stand, off 146 balls, with Kumar Sangakkara had been the centrepiece of Sri Lanka’s innings. Joined after a mediocre start, the pair pushed the run rate close to six, promising a total well in excess of 300, but a stutter in the batting Powerplay and a focused Pakistan, led by Saeed Ajmal, in the late overs ensured they did not finish with force. Thirimanne, backed by the selectors to open instead of Mahela Jayawardene, was fluent from the outset, and despite his strike rate of 92.72, was rarely ruled by aggression. A crisp cover drive off Gul brought him his first boundary in the second over, and that stroke - his favourite - would prove equally productive against spin. Casually authoritative on the off side to begin with, Thirimanne eventually added a leg side element to his play, even swinging Mohammad Hafeez over deep midwicket for six, in the 31st over. In between the sweetly struck fours, Thirimanne was also adept at measuring singles. Aided by a surface that offered little seam movement and appreciable turn, and by Sangakkara’s enterprise at the other end, he eased to his half-century in the 20th over, then launched an offensive alongside the senior man after the 25th. Crucially, for a batsman who has spent much of the past two months sidelined with injury, Thirimanne was as stoic as he was confident. The nineties drew no fidgets or hair-brained strokes. He flitted through them, as he had done throughout his stay, to record his second triple-figure score in ODIs. The milestone, fittingly, came from a cover drive. The celebration, typically, was understated. Though Thirimanne had modeled his strokes and approach on his senior partner, Sangakkara had not been quite so mellow. Often he strode forward against the quicks, seeking to make overpitched balls out of their length deliveries, and his initiative became Sri Lanka’s impetus. He hit 67 from 64 balls, before thumping an Umar Gul bouncer to the only infielder on the leg side. "Chief Scores: Sri Lanka 296 for 6 (Thirimanne 102, Sangakkara 67, Mathews 55*) beat Pakistan 284 (Umar Akmal 74, Misbah 73, Malinga 5-52) by 12 runs" Angelo Mathews embellished his regained stature as a finisher with an unbeaten 55 off 50 balls, but he could not attack with as much abandon as he could have liked at the close, because he could not find a secure ally at the other end. Ajmal’s varied final spell was Sri Lanka’s biggest hindrance. He finished with 1 wicket for 50 from his full quota, while Umar Gul, who strangely only bowled eight overs, took 2 for 38. Pakistan had fizzled to 121 for 4 in response, before measured Misbah and impetuous Akmal fanned the embers of the chase, and had got it roaring again, only to let it grow cold when triumph was in sight. There was little to separate this Misbah half-century from the dozens he has scored in the past 14 months. A staccato of curt defensive prods and opportunistic nurdles broken by startling, occasional blasts: a whack over long on off Thisara Perera and a slog over midwicket off Sachithra Senanayake to go with three more slammed legside boundary. His innings could have ended at 44 when he gave a feather-edge off Suranga Lakmal, but as the only giveaway to Misbah’s indiscretion was one muffled, woody note, the umpire was unmoved. Akmal’s progress was smoother, until he unleashed with ten overs remaining, carting Suranga Lakmal for 16 before slamming two fours off debutant left-arm spinner Chaturanga de Silva. Angelo Mathews bravely kept Lakmal in the attack, perhaps gambling that Akmal could not sustain his salvo, and he was rewarded with the top-edge to the keeper that sparked Pakistan’s late stumble. When Misbah leathered Malinga to deep square leg, it appeared Pakistan were all but done. Lakmal had delivered four overs of accurate away-seam with the new ball, claiming Sharjeel Khan’s wicket as his reward, but though he dismissed Akmal, his figures in the final overs suggested he has not yet developed a head for death bowling. Senanayake and de Silva took one wicket apiece, and Mathews himself took the key scalp of Mohammad Hafeez, who had been Sri Lanka’s primary tormentor during the bilateral series in December.

 Post Match Comments

Man of the match Lasith Malinga: “At the moment, not much good rhythm. Really happy to take the five wickets. Last two games and the first half of the game, didn’t bowl too well. But I used my variations and at the end we won the game. Not much dew today and I concentrated on my variations, slower balls, bouncers and at the end of the day, very happy we won the game” Sri Lanka Captain Angelo Mathews: “I still think we were 20 runs short considering the start Thirimanne and Sangakkara gave us. But in the past we’ve won these close games and it was good to come out on top again. He is a great team man and he will get you runs anywhere. Malinga is the best bowler for us and has been in the past few years. Whenever we are under pressure he is our go to man and he did it again. Well, maybe I’ll try to bowl more” Kumar Sangakkara: “It was pretty Intense. We were under the pump for the greater part of the match, probably our own fault. We were 15-20 short and gave away too many loose balls. But in the end, Malinga the champion showed us just how good he is and Chaturanga de Silva, the debutant did well too with the ball and in the field. Bit more pace on the ball for Bhatti to hit in the latter overs, should have used the change up more. So lots of areas to improve and looking forward to do some training. We had cover for the last over. Thisara was there, Sachithra had an over and we had Lakmal too. But the key over was Malinga’s and he did it for us. [Pakistan pulling Sri Lanka back in the latter overs of their batting] That’s the way the game goes, they bowled really well, but Ange [Mathews] again, fifty not out to guide us towards 300” Pakistan Captain Mibah ul Haq: “I think Umar [Akmal] batted really well, that was a crucial partnership. At that time we had six wickets in hand and we should have won this game. He played a really sensible knock today but played a rash shot and could not finish it. After the start they got, it was a really good effort to restrict them to 296. The way the pitch was playing, no turn nothing for the fast bowler. This should have been chased. I’m trying, there’s nothing better for a batsman than scoring runs and I hope I can do that more often”