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It was Thisara Pereraâ€™s day. It really was. After a cameo at the end of the Lankan innings, he picked up a wicket with the first ball of each of his three spells and ended up with career best figures of 6-44 and single handedly destroyed the Pakistani chase. Earlier in the day, Tillakaratne Dilshan scored an unbeaten century to lead Sri Lanka to a competitive total of 280. But with Pakistan still in the game thanks to some classy shots by Azhar Ali, who answered with a competent 96, they needed regular wickets and Perera picked up six of them. He was rightly adjuged Man of the Match ahead of Dilshan.
Mahela Jayawardene won the toss for the second straight game in Pallekele, and once again decided to bat first. The Lankan skipper said he hoped his batsmen fired this time around on what looked like a better wicket to bat on. His side remained unchanged but he refused to comment on any changes in their batting order. Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul-Haq also felt the wicket was a bit drier and hence batting would be slightly easier. Pakistan were forced to make a change as Mohammed Sami, who was outstanding in the previous game, had an injured thumb. The left arm seamer Rahat Ali made his ODI debut in Sami's place.
The successful Sri Lankan World Cup opening pair of Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga were reunited and they got the home side off to a bright start with a couple of boundaries each. A slight drizzle held up play after 5.4 overs with the score at 28-0 but the match resumed in a matter of minutes. A little later, Tharanga fell for 18 as Sohail Tanvir induced the faintest of edges that carried to the wicketkeeper. It was a rare sight as the batsman walked off before any signal from the umpire. The Lankans got a reprieve when a mix-up between Dilshan and Sangakkara should have given Pakistan a wicket, but the fielder chose the wrong end and no damage was done. Shahid Afridi and the debutant Rahat Ali were brought in after the ten over mark but the Lankans still marched on to 83-1 at the end of 15 overs.
Mohammad Hafeez was brought into the attack in the bowling powerplay and he made an immediate impact. Kumar Sangakkara (18) returned the Professorâ€™s first ball and he completed the softest of caught and bowled dismissals. Dinesh Chandimal struggled against Saeed Ajmal initially as Sri Lanka scored only 9 runs in the 5 over powerplay period.
Chandimal grew in confidence as the match progressed, while Dilshan was keeping the runs ticking over, reaching his half century with a paddle sweep that reached the boundary. The duo put together 70 runs before Afridi had Chandimal (32) trapped leg before with one that held its line. At the end of 34 overs, Sri Lanka were comfortably placed at 168-3.
While Dilshan continued to be watchful in his quest for a century, Jayawardene dispatched the ball to the fence with cheeky shots like the Dilscoop and the reverse sweep. Mahela had his share of luck and was dropped on 25 by the wicketkeeper off an Ajmal doosra. Dilshan slowed down considerably but eventually reached an industrious century with a pull shot that yielded a single. Jayawardene too reached his half-century with another reverse swept boundary, but Ajmal had the last laugh the very next ball as his doosra cleaned up the Lankan skipper, dismissing him for 53 (45b).
Though Dilshan was clearly exhausted, he managed to tonk one out of the park. Thisara Perera was promoted up the order. He managed to score a few quick runs at the end and remained unbeaten on 24 off 14 deliveries. Dilshan carried his bat through and his unbeaten innings of 119 ensured Sri Lanka posted an above par total of 280.
Nuwan Kulasekara and Lasith Malinga maintained a tidy line to start the proceedings in the second innings with a maiden each. Hafeez was lucky not to be run out for 4 as a wayward throw towards the strikers' end rescued him. The very next over, the two slips missed an outside edge from Azhar Ali which went to the third man boundary to give Ali his first runs. He cut loose after that with some stylish boundaries. Perera was brought into the attack early and off his very first ball, he took a stunning low catch diving to his right in his follow through to dismiss Hafeez for 14.
Ali continued to impress by reaching his half century with a cut over the point fielder that raced away to the fence. Sangakkara dropped a straightforward nick from Younis Khan, but not much damage was done as Perera induced another edge in the same over and this time the keeper made no mistake to dismiss the batsman for just 4 runs. At the end of 18 overs Pakistan were 82-2 with Ali keeping them very much in the hunt.
Misbah-ul-Haq rotated the strike nicely along with Ali but the required run rate kept increasing with the boundaries hard to come by. Ranganna Herath and Mathews kept the pressure on the batsmen by bowling 8 overs between them without conceding any boundaries. Perera replaced Mathews and again managed to pick up a wicket off his first ball, which nipped back in to snare Misbah plumb in front of the wicket for 27. Pereraâ€™s good day continued when Umar Akmal(3) edged one to the keeper to hand him his fourth wicket.
The new man Afridi joined Ali out there in the middle, and the duo faced an uphill task as the required run rate kept escalating. Ali hit a boundary after what seemed like ages but Kulasekara bowled him off the very next ball with a leg stump yorker that chipped his leg stump into two. He was out for a well made 96, agonizingly short of what would have been a well deserved century. Pakistan's last real hope Afridi fell for 17, edging a Malinga delivery to the keeper with the diving Sangakkara taking a low catch to his right to effectively seal the game in favour of the hosts.
Perera was at it again as he completed his 5-wicket haul with the first ball of his third spell when Tanvir holed out to Tharanga in the deep. With the score reading 171 for 7 at the end of 41 overs, Pakistan were already out of the contest.
Sarfraz Ahmed hit a couple of boundaries and Umar Gul managed to pull a short ball over the long on boundary for a six but it was a matter of too little too late. Perera picked up his 6th wicket in his last over by trapping Gul (14) plumb in front to finish with figures of 10-0-44-6. Ajmal (4) edged a Malinga bouncer as Sangakkara completed yet another catch. Kulasekara dealt the last blow with a slower ball that caught Ahmed (20) in front of the stumps to hand the hosts a 76 run victory.
It was a clinical performance by the hosts to level the series at 1-1. The action now shifts to Colombo where the rest of the three ODIs will be played with the first of them being on Wednesday, 13th June. This means that both the teams will have enough time to get some rest and develop new strategies to try and win the next game.
Sri Lanka: M Jayawardene (c), T Dilshan, K Sangakkara (wk), D Chandimal, L Thirimanne, U Tharanga, A Mathews, T Perera, N Kulasekara, L Malinga, R Herath
Pakistan: M Hafeez, A Ali, Y Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq (c), U Akmal, S Afridi, S Ahmed (w), S Tanvir, S Ajmal, U Gul, R Ali
Sri Lanka 280-4 (50 overs, 5.6 rpo)
T Dilshan 119*(139) M Hafeez 1-30
M Jayawardene 53(45) S Ajmal 1-49
Pakistan 204-all out (46.2 overs, 4.4 rpo)
A Ali 96(119) T Perera 6-44
Misbah-ul-Haq 27(35) N Kulasekara 2-33
Sri Lanka win by 76 runs
File Photograph Copyright: ICC World T20
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