Colombo: Just before Pakistan began their chase of the Sri Lankan total, there was a moment of pin-drop silence at the jam-packed R Premadasa stadium. The umpires stood still, the players shook with nervous energy and the 35,000-strong crowd seemed to hold its collective breath and pray. And what do you know… it worked.
It was a victory that was built around the knowledge of the conditions and the tactical nous to use that knowledge. Sri Lanka went through to the final of the World T20 with a clinical 16-run win against a Pakistan team that was badly let down by it’s batting. They will next run into Australia or the West Indies.
The hosts won the toss and chose to bat first on a two-paced wicket that offered the spinners and the pacemen some generous assistance. A vital-opening partnership of 63 between Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan helped the hosts to 139.
It was the lowest total ever in a T20 match for a side batting full 20 overs and losing four or fewer wickets. And that told you two things – Pakistan bowled well and the pitch didn’t exactly help the batsmen.
Sohail Tanvir started off things brilliantly for Pakistan – bowling three overs on the trot, conceded just 11 runs in 3 overs. But surprisingly, he didn’t complete his full quota. Raza Hasan was good as well but Saeed Ajmal had an off day, conceding 33 runs in his four overs.
Jayawardene’s innings was the template for all the other batsmen on this wicket. He knew that the odd ball would beat him but he kept the mental composure to go on. He was deservedly adjudged the man-of-the-match as well.
Then, when Pakistan came out to bat – the feeling was that unless Mohammad Hafeez’s side could muster up some extraordinary determination, this match was beyond them. It was the kind of pitch that demanded application from the batsmen and we all know that isn’t Pakistan’s strong suit.
The skipper top-scored with 42 – the same score as Jayawardene – but the rest of the batsmen just didn’t give him any support as Nasir Jamshed, Kamran Akmal and Shoaib Malik all failed to get past single-figures and it robbed the innings of some vital momentum. Shahid Afridi, once again, fell for a first ball duck and his batting has let the side down badly (30 runs in 5 innings at an average of 6.00).
Umar Akmal (29 off 22 balls) gave it a go in the end but he just had too much to do. Sri Lanka’s bowling also had too much class. The highest partnership in the Pakistan innings was just 31.
Sri Lanka’s bowling attack seems perfect for this track and on the back of this performance, they will be hard to beat in the final. Lasith Malinga is always hard to get away, Ajantha Mendis is among the wickets again, Rangana Herath’s carrom ball is a work of art and Angelo Mathews has a superb slower ball.
If Jayawardene’s batting delivers, there’s no reason why the Lankan’s won’t be celebrating this tournament for a very long time to come. After each game, you want to be able to say: I gave it all I could, I gave it my best. Sri Lanka can probably walk away saying that they did exactly that.