Umar Akmal and Misbah almost upstage Thirimanne’s century

A sparse crowd, that eventually grew in size and assumed polarised positions at the Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium, here on Tuesday, might have felt a strong surge of adrenaline invade its system as the night wore on.

At the end of the first game of the Asia Cup, it was man-of-the-match Lasith Malinga's five-wicket haul that stood out after an incessant exhibition of velvety strokes and vigorous pummelling. The climax of this nerve-shredding, vacillating engagement had Sri Lanka scuppering Pakistan by 12 runs after scoring 296 for six.

Malinga's double-strike in the 45th over that consumed Shahid Afridi and Misbah-ul-Haq preceded Pakistan's eventual defeat.

Free-flowing style

Pakistan tailored the first part of its chase in a manner that was in agreement with its jazzy, free-flowing style. Even as Ahmed Shehzad took a while to find his bearings, his opening partner, Sharjeel Khan flung his willow with predatory rage.

Sharjeel eventually succumbed to Suraj Lakmal — whose burst glinted with sharpness — following an ill-timed pull. Nevertheless, the brief innings set the marker for the rest of his mates. Shehzad, in fact, continued with the beefy strikes, targeting Lasith Malinga.

But then came to fore another aspect entwined with Pakistan cricket: unpredictability. Shehzad missed a straight one from left-arm spinner Chaturanga de Silva and Mohammad Hafeez left in the next over.

Misbah strode out to rewrite things, as is his wont, carving out his own template, of resilient aggression. Sohaib Maqsood did’t keep him company for very long, perishing to an atrocious delivery, and out came Umar Akmal. After mooching around for a while, he settled for attractive brutality.

In the 35th over, Misbah on 44, survived a close shout for caught-behind off Lakmal, leaving the Lankans dismayed. After scoring 39 runs in the Powerplay without any casualty, Akmal slammed Lakmal for two fours and a six in three deliveries. But his ouster — a flayed drive catching the tip — started Pakistan's slide.

Underrated flair

In the many ways that flair manifests itself, some remain frightfully underrated. Lahiru Thirimanne’s innings (102,110b, 11x4, 1x6) runs the risk of being condemned to such classification.

But such simplistic notions won’t bother either Thirimanne or his team which elected to bat.

The left-handed opening pair of Kusal Perera and Thirimanne undertook their task with relish. While Thirimanne’s cut off Mohammad Hafeez screeched to point for four, Kusal leveraged the strength of his forearms to pull Umar Gul over mid-wicket.

Pakistan, as it has done quite often in recent times, initiated the attack with Hafeez. Although he didn’t exactly strangulate batsmen with his off-breaks, he didn’t bleed runs either.

Gul’s guile

Gul, though, evidently looked the most likely to get a wicket. He banged one in, a few inches behind the good-length territory, and got it to kick back in to a visibly-surprised Kusal, who must have been happy not to lose his wicket.

In Gul’s next over, he did exactly the opposite from an identical length: the ball bounced a tad more and seamed away to catch the edge.

Pakistan’s next round of celebrations, however, had to wait until the 32nd over. In the meanwhile, Kumar Sangakkara (67), unfussy in manner, brought into play his brand of restrained flamboyance.

Over the course of their 161-run alliance in 146 balls, Sangakkara and Thirimanne often mirrored each other in shot-making style. Sangakkara began with a no-nonsense cover-drive, one that his 24-year-old partner, too, delighted in unravelling every once in a while.

Thirimanne’s best stroke was one of near-self denial: he waited for an inordinate while, letting Bilawal Bhatti’s ball pass him only to bring a horizontal bat down for a short-slap.

Sangakkara’s dainty feet, incongruous with his 36 summers, were employed twice against a helpless Junaid Khan to withering effect. As he was growing to enjoy himself on a congenial surface, Sangakkara’s truculent pull landed in short mid-wicket’s hands.

Thirimanne, not long after completing his second hundred, failed to account for Saeed Ajmal’s turn.

Once he departed to the second ball of the batting powerplay, things went southwards for the Lankans. They could manage only 29 runs between the 35th and 40th overs, losing Mahela Jayawardene.

Even as Angelo Mathews continued to biff the bowling around, Shahid Afridi and Ajmal re-discovered their sting. Sri Lanka managed only 64 runs in its last 10 overs.

Scoreboard:

Sri Lanka: K. Perera c U. Akmal b Gul 14 (26b, 3x4), L. Thirimanne b Ajmal 102 (110b, 11x4, 1x6), K. Sangakkara c Shehzad b Gul 67 (65b, 8x4), M. Jayawardene b Afridi 13 (19b), A. Mathews (not out) 55 (50b, 5x4, 1x6), T. Perera c Shehzad b Afridi 6 (9b), Chaturanga de Silva run out 2 (2b), D. Chandimal (not out) 19 (19b, 2x4); Extras (b-4, lb-6, w-8): 18; Total (for six wkts. in 50 overs): 296.

Fall of wickets: 1-28 (K. Perera), 2-189 (Sangakkara), 3-204 (Thirimanne), 4-224 (Jayawardene), 5-245 (T. Perera), 6-251 (Chaturanga).

Pakistan bowling: Hafeez 9-0-54-0, Gul 8-0-38-2, Junaid 9-0-61-0, Bhatti 4-0-27-0, Ajmal 10-0-50-1, Afridi 10-0-56-2.

Pakistan: Sharjeel Khan c Mathews b Lakmal 26 (23b, 4x4, 1x6), A. Shehzad b Chaturanga 28 (37b, 4x4), Mohd. Hafeez lbw b Mathews 18 (19b, 2x4), S. Maqsood c Chaturanga b Senanayake 17 (27b, 1x4), Misbah-ul-Haq c Senanayake b Malinga 73 (84b, 4x4, 2x6), U. Akmal c Sangakkara b Lakmal 74 (72b, 7x4, 3x6), S. Afridi c Chandimal b Malinga 4 (7b), B. Bhatti b Malinga 18 (13b, 2x4), U. Gul c Chaturanga b Malinga 2 (6b), S. Ajmal lbw b Malinga 10 (4b, 2x4), Junaid Khan (not out) 1 (1b); Extras (lb-3, w-10): 13; Total (in 48.5 overs): 284.

Fall of wickets: 1-28 (Sharjeel), 2-77 (Shehzad), 3-83 (Hafeez), 4-121 (Maqsood), 5-242 (Akmal), 6-252 (Afridi), 7-254 (Misbah), 8-262 (Gul), 9-281 (Ajmal).

Sri Lanka bowling: Malinga 9.5-0-52-5, Lakmal 9-1-65-2, Senanayake 9-0-47-1, Chaturanga 10-1-56-1, T. Perera 6-0-36-0, Mathews 5-1-25-1.

Man-of-the-match: Malinga.

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