After bowling out Sri Lanka out for just 236, Pakistan got a 74-run opening stand and was at one stage 92 for 1. They then collapsed to 162 for 7, before captain Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammad Amir did something very unlike Pakistan of old: hold their nerve.
Sarfraz remained unbeaten on 61 and Amir on 28 in a partnership of 75 to help their nation seal its semi-final spot in the ICC Champions Trophy with a thrilling three-wicket win at Cardiff Wales Stadium on Monday. It was helped along by some ordinary fielding by Sri Lanka, who hurt its own chances after dropping crucial catches.
That Pakistan had to chase a modest total was down to its left-arm pacers Junaid Khan and Mohammad Amir. They picked up two wickets each between the 32nd and 35th overs as Sri Lanka lost 4 for 6 to slide downhill from 161 for 3. Junaid finished with 3 for 40 from his 10 overs, which included three maidens, with two of those being wicket maidens.
Pakistan’s chase started with Azhar Ali being dropped off the fourth ball by Danushka Gunathilaka at point. It was an opportunity missed, as Pakistan’s openers went on to add 74 off just 68 balls.
Fakhar Zaman was the aggressor, playing some lovely drives off Lasith Malinga and also some bold swipes across the line. Azhar played second fiddle and took 15 balls to get off the mark, but out of nowhere stepped out to hit Thisara Perera out of the stadium behind the sight screen. Zaman too did the same to Lakmal, albeit off an outside edge over third man, as Pakistan raced to 65 in the first 10.
Zaman reached his half-century off 34 balls, but fell two balls later when he hooked Nuwan Pradeep to fine-leg in the 12th over.
That opening led to a flurry of soft dismissals as panic set in among Pakistan’s middle order.
Babar Azam flicked Pradeep straight to midwicket in the 16th over, before Mohammad Hafeez spooned Thisara to mid-on in the next.
Mathews, in some inspired captaincy, got a slip in for Azhar, despite the batsman having passed 30, and got the result when an outside edge flew straight to that fielder.
Sensing an opportunity, he then unleashed the experienced Malinga, who responded with the big wicket of Shoaib Malik, the batsman getting a faint edge to the wicketkeeper while trying to pull. From 92 for 1 in the 16th over, Pakistan had slipped to 131 for 5 in the 25th. It became 137 for 6 in the very next when Imad Wasim nicked Pradeep.
Fahim Ashraf started with a six and a four, but fell in an unfortunate fashion, when a straight drive from Sarfraz deflected off the bowler Thisara’s hands to the stumps, catching him inches short.
Pakistan needed 75 to win from 120 balls at that stage and from there on, it was a case of Sarfraz and Amir’s persistence as much as it was of Sri Lanka’s sloppiness.
Mathews’s side paid for overthrows, misfields and a couple of missed catches; Sarfraz the batsman and Malinga the bowler on both occasions. Thisara first put down a sitter at mid-on with Pakistan 43 away while Seekkuge Prasanna, the substitute, dropped one at deep square-leg four runs later.
Sri Lankan shoulders dropped, Pakistan’s command increased. Fittingly, Sarfraz hit the winnings runs, guiding Malinga to the third man boundary.
After winning a crucial toss in overcast conditions, Pakistan’s seamers hit their lines well but Sri Lanka’s openers countered the accuracy by targeting the short straight boundaries. Gunathilaka fell in the sixth over but as they did in the first two games, Sri Lanka stayed positive. Kusal Mendis started briskly and Dickwella also stayed over run-a-ball, as the partnership quickly went past 50.
Hassan Ali broke the stand with a ripper, going through Mendis’s defence with one that jagged back in. One brought two when Dinesh Chandimal chopped on three balls later playing a loose, casual drive.
There was a bit of wobble at 83 for 3 but the experienced Mathews led the recovery with Dickwella. Sri Lanka went 13 overs without a boundary between the 13th and the 25th overs, with Dickwella also going through a 54-ball period without a four.
But Sri Lanka still managed a healthy run-rate and reached 160 for 3 in 30 overs, with the partnership over 75 and both batsmen well set.
That platform would be destroyed with disdain over the next four overs as Pakistan unleashed its two left-arm pacers in tandem.
It all started with Amir bowling Mathews in the 32nd over, cramping him for room and finding the inside edge on the pull. Dhananjaya de Silva, Dickwella and Thisara went in a procession soon as Sri Lanka slipped from 161 for 4 to 167 for 7 in 23 balls.
It could have been worse had Sarfraz held on to a catch from Asela Gunaratne when the batsmen was on 2.
Gunaratne and Suranga Lakmal arrested the slide with a 46-run partnership for the eighth wicket before Hasan accounted for both. Sri Lanka added 69 for the last three wickets, which could have made the difference had it held on to catches.