Sunday 29 June 2008 

Reigning Champions Sri Lanka Continue Asia Cup Form

A Kumar Sangakkara century and four wickets from spinner Ajantha Mendis kept up Sri Lanka's unbeaten run in the 2008 Asia Cup with a 64-run win over hosts Pakistan in their Super Four match in Karachi.

A sublime innings of 112 from Sangakkara helped Pakistan post 302 for seven before Mendis grabbed four for 47 as Pakistan managed 238 for nine in reply.

Chaminda Vaas struck with the first ball of Pakistan's innings to bowl Salman Butt off an inside edge and from there on, despite half-centuries of very different nature from Shoaib Malik and Misbah-ul-Haq, Sri Lanka dominated.

This was despite a gutsy and enterprising half-century stand between Shoaib Malik and Younus Khan. Younus made most of the running, so to speak, but also scored seven handsome boundaries before a mis-timed pull off of Nuwan Kulasekera found the safe hands of Muttiah Muralitharan at mid on.

The introduction of spin proved decisive with Muralitharan to the fore, but overshadowed today by junior partner Mendis. It could have been different as shortly after Mohammad Yousuf opened his account with a sweetly-timed boundary through cover, the off-spinner had him dropped by Sanath Jayasuriya - another mis-timed sweep getting a Pakistani batsman into trouble.

Shoaib Malik, who scored a brilliant century against India last week, albeit in a losing cause, was attempting to construct an innings of similar stature but shortly after he had reached fifty, he was stumped off of Mendis for 52. It meant a drop by Chamara Silva wasn't costly but that having batted for 32 overs, he had left his side with a mountain to climb.

His dismissal came four overs after Yousuf (19) fell to Mendis, the man who can seemingly bowl any sort of delivery, trapped in front trying to sweep.

Misbah, though, refused to be intimidated, smashing Muralitharan into the crowd, a trick he would repeat off of Mendis, Jayasuriya and Thushara but he lost partners Shahid Afridi to a wild heave first ball, Mansoor Amjad to another lbw and then his own demise came when he was left with no choice but to try to hit everything.

He missed, Mendis hit and an exhilarating innings of 76 from 70 balls was ended. Mendis was denied a second five-wicket haul in the tournament but Kulasekera returned to knock over Sarfraz Ahmed's stumps for 19 as Pakistan limped towards their second loss in a row.

Muralitharan finally picked up a wicket when Rao Iftikhar (seven) top edged and Kulasekera, who returned figures of two for 35 took the catch.

Tanvir was unbeaten on nine while Wahab faced five deliveries for an unbeaten one.

Earlier, there was a first five-wicket haul in One Day Internationals for left-arm pace bowler Tanvir, but Pakistan, fielding an inexperienced bowling attack, were for the main given the run around by Sri Lanka's batsmen.

After Pakistan chose to bowl, they got a quick breakthrough when Tanvir had Jayasuriya (eight) trapped in front.

Wahab and Rao were not able to bowl as consistently as Tanvir and Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene capitalised, Jayawardene (29) driving with ease through the offside until he was dismissed, trying to cut Tanvir. The catch was well held by Misbah at backward point, which epitomised an excellent fielding effort from Pakistan.

Kapugedera showed a willingness to use his feet against the bowlers and a refusal to play any shot that wasn't convincing, save for an early swipe against Tanvir. Rao and Malik saw deliveries planted over the midwicket boundary, the latter bringing up the half-century partnership in the 23rd over.

Sangakkara appeared more circumspect, as if conserving energy knowing he would be there for the long haul, but anything loose was pounced on by the left-hander, with Pakistan also paying the penalty for bowling too many wides.

The wily wicket-keeper's circumspection was an illusion, as he reached his century in 96 balls, his tally of ten fours and one six giving clues to how he constructed his innings.

Kapugedera shared a stand of 82 with Sangakkara before becoming leg-spinner Mansoor's first international wicket when he swept him to Younus in the deep having made 43.

Silva came in and upped the run rate, hitting five fours in an action-packed innings of 46 before he was caught behind off of Tanvir before Sangakkara soon followed, bowled by the same man attempting to flick him behind square. It was the first time he had strayed from orthodoxy as his side pushed for late runs in the latter overs.

Thushara, sent in as a pinch-hitter, hit a brisk 28, and Tillakaratne Dilshan eight before Vaas (four not out) and Kulasekera (one not out) ensured reigning champions Sri Lanka passed the 300 mark.

Tanvir impressed with five for 48, tirelessly carrying a desperately light bowling attack to further improve his stock following a maiden half-century against Hong Kong in Pakistan's only tournament win so far.

Pakistan handed a One Day International debut to Mansoor and Wahab replaced injured seamer Umar Gul. Fawad Alam also missed out.

Sri Lanka were back to full strength after resting players against the United Arab Emirates, with Vaas and Muralitharan back in the side, but Thushara was preferred to Dilhara Fernando.

© Cricket World 2008