A four-wicket haul from Sohail Tanvir and a fluent stand between captain Misbah-ul-Haq and Umar Akmal were the stand-out features of Pakistan’s convincing win – they took the series 4-1 – in the dead rubber played on a slow pitch. The pair didn’t get bogged down at the fall of two wickets off successive deliveries and their positive approach kept their team on track, but the platform for a win was set up by a superior bowling attack that restricted Sri Lanka, whose batting let them down again, to a gettable total.
Plenty of talent and depth in their bowling reserves served Pakistan well again. In conditions that were aiding swing and movement early on, and not discounting the advantage of using new balls at each end, Pakistan’s seamers stepped up, and were supported by their spinners later on. Tanvir didn’t have the pace of the man he replaced, Aizaz Cheema, but made up with his prodigious swing – by Middle East standards – and wily, selective variations. He fooled opener Upul Tharanga with an away swinger after feeding him three deliveries on the trot that moved in through the air. He was more threatening when he pitched the ball short of a driving length, something he realised quickly after being driven down the ground by Dinesh Chandimal. He worked at him with a spate of away-going deliveries and held one back a little more, prompting an attempt at a steer from Chandimal that was snapped up by slip.
In the interim, Umar Gul forced a loose shot from Tillakaratne Dilshan, who was caught behind. Thirty two for 3 soon became 46 for 4 when Chamara Silva, replacing an injured Mahela Jayawardene, was sucked in by a length ball that he nicked straight to slip, giving Junaid Khan a wicket in his first over.
The only batsman unflustered by the travails around him was Kumar Sangakkara, once again charged with the responsibility of rebuilding his team’s innings. Despite the early assistance for the seamers, he didn’t hesitate lurching forward to execute his favourite drives past extra cover on one knee, and took Tanvir for three fours in an over. The spinners, Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal, erred on occasion, and Sangakkara was quick to latch on. He found an able partner at No.6 in Angelo Mathews, who counterattacked by launching Gul for two straight sixes when that early support from the conditions had withered away, and ran superbly between wickets.
Sangakkara and Mathews did an admirable job, rotating the strike and not getting bogged down in a stand of 118. The field was spread out but a significant proportion of their runs were singles earned by just tapping the ball around the in-field, often in front of cover and point, and sprinting across. The boundaries, however, had dried up and when Sangakkara tried to break the 14-over drought with a drive over extra cover against Mohammad Hafeez, he was caught. Not long after, Jeevan Mendis was stumped off Afridi and Mathews, who’d survived a couple of close shaves while walking across to Ajmal, was eventually bowled round his legs. Sri Lanka only managed two fours and a six in the second half of their innings, struggling to push on as the track got increasingly slow and Tanvir returned to nip out a couple more.
Pakistan began their pursuit cautiously, going through a 24-ball runless phase at one stage, but Mohammad Hafeez and Asad Shafiq, in particular, were beginning to get set before losing their wickets. The experienced hands of Younis Khan and Misbah, however, guided them in typical, workmanlike fashion. Misbah was given a life at backward point by Jeevan Mendis, but consolidated well amid periodic bursts of aggression. Younis pulled Fernando past square leg and drove Prasanna inside-out over extra cover. Misbah warmed up by launching a length ball over Mathews’ head, blazed Perera through the covers and reverse-swept a couple of boundaries past short third man.
In a little over ten overs together, the pair added a half-century stand and strengthened Pakistan’s position. That was undermined when Younis and Shoaib Malik were trapped in front by Mendis off consecutive deliveries in the 26th over. The hat-trick ball was an early indication of the Pakistani response – Umar stepped out to a flighted delivery and drove it confidently to mid-off, seemingly unaffected by the pressure created by those two wickets. The final ball of the over was a long hop that was promptly dispatched, and the tone of his innings changed little after that.
Umar often left his crease to get to the pitch of the ball and comfortably kept the runs flowing. Misbah, on the other hand, opted to play from the crease, sweeping, reverse-sweeping, shuffling from one side to the other restlessly but effectively and keeping the required-rate under control throughout. The boundaries came from the other end: Umar muscled Thisara Perera through the covers, guided Malinga past third man, swatted Dilhara Fernando through midwicket and creamed Seekkuge Prasanna past mid-off. There was a slight hiccup when Misbah and Afridi fell in quick succession, but Pakistan were secure with Umar at the other end; the pressure was off with a couple of crunched boundaries off Malinga and Fernando, and the win followed shortly after.