Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal restrict Sri Lanka batsmen to 225, batsmen overhaul target with lots to spare
By their standards, Pakistan’s oscillations this year have pretty much matched up to its norm. There have been some fine, heady highs and some miserable, plummeting lows.
Pakistan wrapped up a One-Day International series win against Sri Lanka on Wednesday (December 25) night in Abu Dhabi, its seventh bilateral ODI series triumph of the year, a record for it. By most standards, that is a good haul, even if it includes wins against Scotland, Ireland and Zimbabwe.
More than any other player, Mohammad Hafeez has embodied the performance swings of the side. Last night he was the exceptional Hafeez.
His unbeaten 113 was the base with which Pakistan sauntered home to an inadequate target of 226 at the Shaikh Zayed stadium with eight wickets and 53 balls to spare. It was an impeccable innings, full of exactly the kind of flawless stroke making that can, on occasion, make him look like such a quality batsman.
He was actually even more fluid than usual, the result no doubt of a run that had seen two hundreds already in the series. Balls came off the middle; gone were the indecisive jabs and pushes that have pockmarked his career.
He launched himself firmly into a succession of pulls and hooks early (his first 20 runs came entirely in boundaries). When he drove, he looked like he was modelling for batting textbooks. From very early, in fact, a hundred looked likely and so it eventually came. With his third century of the series, Hafeez became the first Pakistani since Zaheer Abbas to hit that many in one series. It was also his fifth of the year, the most by a Pakistani since Mohammad Yousuf in 2002, and placed him at joint No. 1 for 2013 with Shikhar Dhawan.
But the innings, and this series, masked the desperate struggles he has gone through the entire year, against better bowling attacks and in tougher conditions (his other two centuries have come against Ireland and Zimbabwe).
He only has to hear the name Dale Steyn to get out to him. In fact, he was so poor for a stretch he was dropped from the Test side and only his bowling kept him in the ODI side. And a permanent reminder of his fallibility is found in this fact: his ODI average crept over 30 after the third ODI of this series for the first time since May 2003.
His story has been the story of Pakistan’s year, rising, dipping but not definitively settling anywhere.
A series win, ultimately, is a series win though, and against higher-ranked opposition (Sri Lanka is No. 4, Pakistan No. 6) it is to be lauded. Sri Lanka has not looked like a top four team here and it was very poor on Wednesday.
On an ideal, even-paced surface, Sri Lanka’s batsmen conspired to get themselves out, Umar Gul (3 for 37) an early recipient with three cheap wickets. The only thing those top-order dismissals were missing was some nice gift-wrapping and an old, fat, bearded man in red handing them out.
Kumar Sangakkara and Ashan Priyanjan, the debutant, stabilised the situation with an 89-run stand, but Sangakkara (51) got himself run out and Priyanjan (74) attempted a needless paddle when a century looked inevitable.
Effectively, that was the air gone from the innings. Angelo Mathews (38) and Kithuruwan Vithanage (27) added handy runs, but against Saeed Ajmal (4 for 39), it was never going to amount to anything substantial.