Sri Lanka's second loss leaves it on the threshold of elimination

Misbah-ul-Haq has often witnessed Pakistan's meltdowns from a heart-breaking distance in the past. And on Thursday, one of cricket's mysteries — the anxieties of chasing a low target — briefly threatened to derail his team's pursuit of Sri Lanka's 188 in the Asia Cup match at the Sher-E-Bangla National Stadium.

The captain was in no mood to revisit those old tales of the dazed look and a loss of words at the post-match presentation function. He stood his ground and with the cheeky Umar Akmal giving company, helped Pakistan defeat Sri Lanka by six wickets. Pakistan scored 189 for four in 39.5 overs to also gain a bonus point.

It is a verdict that immensely strengthened Pakistan's prospects of qualifying for the final. Mahela Jayawardene's men are almost out of the tournament and will need a miracle in the form of unpredictable results — India losing to both Bangladesh and Pakistan — to even remotely hope for a shot at the trophy.

Initial stutter

Pakistan's flourish towards the end, glossed over its terrible start and that too after Lasith Malinga's first spell, was achieved without suffering any casualties. Nasir Jamshed failed to check his vaulting ambition against Suranga Lakmal, while Mohd. Hafeez miscalculated the trajectory of leg-spinner Seekkuge Prasanna.

Younis Khan pre-meditated the whip off his legs and had no qualms in playing an on-drive without getting on top of the ball. A tumbling Farveez Maharoof juggled and held at mid-on and from 33 for three, Pakistan needed a doughty partnership.

Misbah (72 n.o.) and Akmal (77) buckled down to the task in their 152-run fourth-wicket partnership. Misbah toyed with Prasanna and Akmal struck three fours when Malinga returned for his second spell. Pakistan inched ahead and once Lahiru Thirimanne dropped Akmal on 46 at backward square-leg to Lakmal's dismay, Sri Lanka lost its way.

Sangakkara stands firm

Earlier, Kumar Sangakkara's 71 proved to be the slender spine upon which Sri Lanka built its tenuous innings that was marred by collapses in the beginning and the end.

The manner in which Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan relished their initial appetisers from Aizaz Cheema seemed to vindicate the take-first-strike judgement.

The portents of a fine start proved to be a false hint as Jayawardene lashed without adequately getting close to the ball and Dilshan miscued a pull. The wickets provided a welcome balm to Cheema and then Chandimal and Thirimanne failed to last against Umar Gul and Hammad Azam respectively.

Sangakkara, who despatched his first ball (from Cheema) for four, cut down the risks and allied with Upul Tharanga (57). The two southpaws pushed the score from a comatose 65 for four with their contrasting strokes. Tharanga rocked back and teased the fielder at short third-man while Sangakkara found his runs past mid-wicket.

The fifth-wicket partnership was worth 96 runs when the batting Power Play again unsettled Sri Lanka. In the last game, Jayawardene's men had scored 31 and lost four wickets and in their latest episode of ineptitude, mustered just 13 runs and lost two wickets. The choke started once Saeed Ajmal's doosra knocked back Tharanga's stumps and during the Power Play, the off-spinner's spell read 3-1-8-2. Gul too chipped in, conceding a meagre five from two overs.

Scoreboard

Sri Lanka: M. Jayawardene c Hafeez b Cheema 12 (15b, 1x4), T. Dilshan c Ajmal b Cheema 20 (20b, 4x4), K. Sangakkara b Cheema 71 (92b, 4x4, 1x6), D. Chandimal c Younis b Gul 0 (4b), L. Thirimanne c Akmal b Azam 7 (18b), U. Tharanga b Ajmal 57 (74b, 4x4), F. Maharoof c Misbah b Ajmal 2 (8b), N. Kulasekara c Sarfraz b Gul 4 (16b, 1x4), S. Prasanna (not out) 5 (17b), L. Malinga b Cheema 1 (6b), S. Lakmal c Nasir b Ajmal 0 (4b); Extras (lb-5, w-4): 9; Total (in 45.4 overs): 188.

Power Plays: One (Overs 1-10): 52/3; Bowling (16-20): 11/0; Batting (36-40): 13/2.

Fall of wickets: 1-33 (Jayawardene), 2-43 (Dilshan), 3-47 (Chandimal), 4-65 (Thirimanne), 5-161 (Tharanga), 6-165 (Maharoof), 7-172 (Kulasekara), 8-182 (Sangakkara), 9-187 (Malinga).

Pakistan bowling: Gul 8-1-20-2, Cheema 9-0-43-4, Hafeez 10-0-40-0, Azam 4-0-21-1, Ajmal 8.4-1-27-3, Afridi 6-0-32-0.

Pakistan: Mohd. Hafeez c Chandimal b Prasanna 11 (35b, 1x4), N. Jamshed c Tharanga b Lakmal 18 (25b, 3x4), Younis c Maharoof b Lakmal 2 (11b), Misbah (not out) 72 (93b, 9x4, 1x6), U. Akmal c Tharanga b Maharoof 77 (72b, 7x4, 2x6), H. Azam (not out) 4 (5b); Extras (lb-1, w-2, nb-2): 5; Total (for four wkts. in 39.5 overs): 189.

Power Plays: One (Overs 1-10): 31/1; Bowling (16-20): 29/0; Batting (36-39.5): 41/1.

Fall of wickets: 1-29 (Jamshed), 2-31 (Hafeez), 3-33 (Younis), 4-185 (Akmal).

Sri Lanka bowling: Malinga 8-1-44-0, Kulasekara 7-2-22-0, Lakmal 8-1-37-2, Prasanna 7.5-1-49-1, Maharoof 7-0-23-1, Dilshan 2-0-13-0.

Man-of-the-match: Aizaz Cheema.

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