Mirpur: Pakistan relied on a clinical display to storm into the final of the Asia Cup cricket tournament after thrashing a hapless Sri Lanka by six wickets to record their second successive victory.
After bundling out Sri Lanka for a paltry 188 all out in 45.4 overs, the Pakistanis rode on captain Misbah-ul Haq (72 not out) and Umar Akmal's (77) record 152-run partnership to cruise to a comfortable victory with a bonus point and with 61 balls to spare at the Sher-e-Bangla National stadium.
Paceman Aizaz Cheema (4/43) and spinner Saeed Ajmal (3/27) played a big role in ripping through the Sri Lankan batting line up which paid the price for some poor shot selections. Only Kumar Sangakkarra (71) and Upul Tharanga (57) managed to put up decent knocks.
The defeat has virtually knocked Sri Lanka out of the tournament having lost both their league matches so far. Sri Lanka had lost to India by 50 runs in their opening match on Tuesday.
If India beat hosts Bangladesh tomorrow, the two arch rivals will clash in the summit showdown on 22 March, rendering the Bangladesh-Sri Lanka league match consequential. Pakistan did well to recover from the early jolts as Misbah and Akmal played sensibly to overhaul the target.
Chasing the modest target, the Pakistani openers began cautiously before getting into a more attacking frame of mind with Nasir Jamshed cracking a couple of delightful boundaries off Nuwan Kulasekara.
The islanders struck in the ninth over through Suranga Lakmal who evicted Jamshed, who went for a pull but only succeeded in giving a catch to Upul Tharanga. From 29 for no loss, Pakistan suddenly slumped to a precarious 33 for three as Mohammad Hafeez (11) and the veteran Younis Khan (2) perished in quick succession.
Spinner Seekkuge Prasanna struck in his very first over to get rid of Hafeez as he went for a drive to a flighted delivery and offered a catch to Dinesh Chamdimal at backward point.
Nine balls later, Younis Khan joined him in the pavilion after Farveez Maharoof produced a brilliant catch at the mid-wicket region off Lakmal. Maharoof ran in from mid on and just about managed to scoop the ball inches from the ground.
Captain Misbah-ul Haq and Umar Akmal then steadied the ship as they batted cautiously to gradually wriggle out of the tight situation. The two batsmen then unleashed a barrage of strokes to completely tilt the game in Pakistan's favour as they took the score close to the target Akmal perished.
Earlier, Sangakkara and Tharanga waged a grim battle, adding 96 runs for the fifth wicket, but the Lankans needed more, which they could not, against the pace and spin combo of Cheema, Gul and Ajmal.
Electing to bat, Mahela Jayawardene (12) and Tillakaratne Dilshan (20) gave Sri Lanka a flying start as both accumulated 33 runs off the first five overs. Cheema, before his remarkable comeback, was clobbered for 17 runs in his very first over.
While Jayawardene blasted pacer Cheema for three fours in the second over, Dilshan joined the party with two consecutive fours in the fourth over off the same bowler.
However, Cheema had the last laugh as he lured Jayawardene into attempting the aerial route, which led to his dismissal. The Lankan skipper was caught by Mohammad Hafeez at extra cover.
Cheema soon took his revenge on Dilshan with a short-pitched delivery. The opener went for a pull even as the ball reared at him quickly from back of a length, resulting in a top-edge, which Ajmal managed to hold around mid-wicket.
Sri Lanka slumped into more misery as Dinesh Chandimal guided a sharp delivery from Gul to the slip cordon where Younis Khan completed a brilliant diving catch to his left.
Pacer Hammad Azam made the Sri Lankan scoreline read 65 for four in the 15th over of the innings when he accounted for Lahiru Thirimanne (7), who was caught by Umar Akmal at point.
Tharanga then joined hands with former skipper Sangakkara to steady the Lankan ship. Both batsmen were happy to score in singles and doubles as they took Sri Lanka past the 100-run mark in the 26th over.
Sri Lanka had to wait for their first boundary for 58 balls after the collapse of Thirimanne, when Tharanga cut a loose delivery from Shahid Afridi through extra cover. Both batsmen adopted a more cautious approach while keeping the scoreboard tickling. Sangakkara looked solid with his defense and front-foot drives.
Sangakkara and Tharanga reached their respective fifties in the 33rd over, bowled by Afridi, which also took Sri Lanka past the 150-run mark.
Sri Lanka took the batting powerplay in the 36th over but were only made to regret their decision as Ajmal managed to breach Tharanga's defense with his doosra, which crashed into the middle and leg stump.
Ajmal struck again as he flummoxed Farveez Maharoof (2), again with his doosra, which turned away sharply. Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul-Haq caught Maharoof at square leg. Gul snared his 150th ODI victim when he had Nuwan Kulasekara (4) caught by wicketkeeper Sarfaraz Ahmed to make the scoreline read 172 for seven.
Trying to cut loose after watching wickets tumbling at the other end, Sangakkara was bowled by Cheema in the 43rd over.
Lasith Malinga and Suranga Lakmal too fell quickly as Sri Lanka failed to cross the 200-run mark.