Man-of-the-match Gul and Umar Akmal launch a blistering attack

A sharp batsman and a fast bowler, who largely led a sedentary existence for 17 overs, and sharing a first name Umar, formed a devastating alliance that helped Pakistan snatch a two-wicket victory over South Africa in an ICC World Twenty20 Super Eights Group II match at the R. Premadasa Stadium here on Friday evening.

Patrolling fine-leg for a major part of his stint on the field, Umar Gul was pressed into service only when 18 deliveries were left in the South African innings.

Slow pitch

A slow pitch and buzzing spinners may have forced Mohammad Hafeez to overlook his pace spearhead but ‘Man of the Match’ Gul (32, 17b, 2x4, 3x6) made his presence felt with the bat in the dying stages and in tandem with Umar Akmal (43 n.o., 41b, 4x4, 1x6), mercilessly carved the rival attack.

Chasing South Africa’s 133 for six, Pakistan scored 136 for eight in 19.4 overs, a verdict that looked impossible when its top four were back in the dugout with just 37 on the board.

Pakistan’s openers — skipper Mohammad Hafeez and Imran Nazir — launched a flurry of boundaries against Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel and the first two overs yielded 20 runs.

Steyn strikes

The party though was short-lived as Steyn’s bouncer grazed Nazir’s top-edge and Hafeez after greeting left-arm spinner Robin Peterson with a six, tried for an encore and was left stranded by his counterpart A.B. de Villiers, who again came into play as Nasir Jamshed went walk-about. Kamran Akmal then tried to chip Johan Botha on the off-side when the delivery was too close for comfort.

Umar then stitched the chase despite the tatters sported by Shoaib Malik and Shahid Afridi and as the remaining overs shrunk, he slapped Albie Morkel high over backward point and wristed away Morne.

Gul then stole the show, hoisting Jacques Kallis for two sixes and lofting Albie high over mid-wicket. Though Steyn scalped Gul in the penultimate over, Umar pocketed the contest for Pakistan.

Earlier, the South African innings suffered a false start as Hashim Amla sliced Yasir Arafat’s slower ball to cover, Kallis donned a futile aggressive veneer and Richard Levi tried a foolhardy reverse sweep against Saeed Ajmal.

Hafeez perpetually employed spin and even held back Gul. Lost in doubt’s embrace, the Proteas gasped and it could have been worse but for the efforts of J-P Duminy (48) and de Villiers (25), who added 44 runs off 29 balls for the fifth wicket.

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