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The first really big game of the ICC Cricket World Cup produced a contest worthy of the build-up as Pakistan beat Sri Lanka by 11 runs in Colombo to announce their presence as genuine title contenders at the tournament. Half-centuries from Younus Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq allowed Pakistan to post a competitive 277 for 7 in their allotted 50 overs and though Sri Lanka got off to a good start, a lion hearted performance by Shoaib Akhtar and 4 wickets from Shahid Afridi restricted the home side to just 266 for 9 in their chase.
Pakistan won the all important toss at the Premadasa and elected to bat first. They named an unchanged line-up from the team which beat Kenya. Sri Lanka meanwhile rung the changes, bringing in Chamara Silva and Rangana Herath for Chamara Kapugedera and Ajantha Mendis. There was, however, no room in the Sri Lankan squad for pace spearhead Lasith Malinga, who was still nursing a back injury.
Pakistan appeared to get off to a decent start, but lost Ahmed Shahzad caught behind off Perera for just 13. Kamran Akmal joined Mohammad Hafeez in the middle, and the pair took advantage of the fielding restrictions hitting the Sri Lankan medium pacers all over the park. Akmal and Hafeez continued attacking the Sri Lankan bowlers even in the bowling powerplay but a terrible mix up between them led to departure of Hafeez for 32. The innings started to slow down with the arrival of the spinners and Kamran Akmal (39) lost patience and was stumped for the second time in consecutive matches.
Misbah-ul-Haq joined Younus Khan in the middle and started to pick up ones and twos easily. They started to look dangerous the more time they spent together at the wicket, and appeared to be taking the game away from Sri Lanka as the 200 was brought up even before the 39th over. But Younus' wicket in the 41st over, caught by Mahela Jayawardene off Herath for 72, came at a perfect time for the Lankans.
Umar Akmal arrived looking for some big hits and Pakistan took the batting powerplay at the start of 44th over. They had scored a staggering 75 runs in the 5 overs window against Kenya, but the Sri Lankan bowlers were a completely different kettle of fish and restricted the Pakistani batsmen to just 36 runs. Nuwan Kulasekra and Muttiah Muralitharan were the stars who kept the batsman quiet in that period. Murali also picked up the wicket of Umar who couldn't get anything away, scoring just 10 off 15. Shahid Afridi hit a few boundaries in his short stay at the crease scoring 16, though it was ultimately left to Misbah to rescue the innings, and his contribution of 83 from 91 balls took Pakistan through to 277 by the end.
Sri Lanka made a slow start as Shoaib Akhtar looked in great shape and bowled an impeccable line. Abdur Razzaq complemented him well at the other end initially, bowling a maiden first up. But after spending some time at the crease both Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga starting playing a few strokes. The opening pair put on 76 runs inside 15 overs and looked well on course to an easy win when the unlikely source of Mohammad Hafeez provided the much needed breakthrough. Tharanga had made 33 before finding Shahid Afridi at mid-off and his dismissal started a Sri Lankan collapse, that saw the Islanders lose 4 wickets for just 20 runs.
Afridi sent Dilshan back for 41 before game 1 centurion Mahela Jayawardne was cleaned up by a brilliant inswinging delivery from Akhtar. Afridi then picked up his second of the evening as Thilan Samaraweera was caught out of his crease by Kamran Akmal with the Lankans sliding to 96/4.
Chamara Silva joined captain Kumar Sangakkara in the middle and the pair set about in an effort to rebuild the innings. Silva struggled to rotate strike and didn't score many runs early in his innings. The run rate kept on climbing, and it looked as if Sri Lanka were going to fall woefully short of the target at one stage. Sangakkara reacted by taking the batting powerplay at the start of 34 over hoping to increase the run rate. The batsmen did strike a few boundaries but when on 49, Sangakkara hit one straight to long on off the bowling of Shahid Afridi, who picked up his third wicket.
But it seemed as if Sri Lanka might just pull off a miracle after Pakistan put down a few catches. Mathews hit a couple of boundaries and Silva too got into the act. Shahid Afridi struck again removing Mathews for 18, and when Thisira Perera was cleaned up for 8 by a full length delivery from Akhtar, it looked once again that the chase was well and truly over.
Silva made 57 before he was stumped off a wide a ball, and despite some late lusty blows from Nuwan Kulasekara, Sri Lanka fell short by 11 runs in the end. It looked like a narrow loss on paper, but after dominating the first two powerplays, Sri Lanka slumped badly, and were never really in the game anymore.
Afridi was awarded the Man of the Match for a brilliant spell, picking up 4 wickets while conceding just 34 runs. Sri Lanka have the perfect antidote for this defeat as they face a poor Kenyan side in their next match on Tuesday at the same venue while Pakistan too have an easy match to look ahead to as they face Canada a couple of days later, also at the Premadasa.
Pakistan: Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Kamran Akmal (wk), Younus Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi (c), Abdul Razzaq, Abdur Rehman, Umar Gul, Shoaib Akhtar.
Sri Lanka: Tillakaratne Dilshan, Upul Tharanga, Kumara Sangakkara (c&wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Thilan Samaraweera, Chamara Silva, Angelo Matthews, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Muttiah Muralitharan, Rangana Herath.
Pakistan 277/7 in 50 overs (5.54 runs per over)
Misbah-ul-Haq 83* (91) T Perera 2-62
Younus Khan 72 (76) R Herath 2-46
Sri Lanka 266/9 in 50 overs (5.32 runs per over)
Chamara Silva 57 (78) S Afridi 4-34
Kumar Sangakkara 49 (61) S Akhtar 2-42
Also Read: India v England Match Preview
File Photograph Copyright: ICC World T20
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