| Rangana Herath, in Colombo, on Thursday |
Colombo: Sri Lanka wasn’t at their best, either with the bat or in the field, but they still had enough in reserve to overwhelm Pakistan and make it to the final of the World T20.
In a low-scoring thriller that kept a capacity crowd on the edge of their seats throughout the three-and-a-quarter hour shootout, Sri Lanka kept their nerve to conjure a remarkable 16 run win at the R Premadasa Stadium on Thursday night. They now await the winner of the second semi-final between Australia and the West Indies in Sunday’s final.
After managing a modest 139 for four on a slow Premadasa track, Sri Lankan duo of Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis stifled the Pakistan batsmen in the final overs to restrict them to 123 for seven.
Pakistan needed 32 runs off last three overs which is considered to be quite achievable by T20 standards but Mendis and Malinga held their nerves giving only five and four runs respectively of the 18th and 19th over.
Nuwan Kulasekara, who bowled the 20th over, didn’t have any pressure on him as he gave only seven runs to send the capacity crowd into a dizzy.
Left-arm spinner Rangana Herath used the conditions to perfection as he recorded the best figures of three for 25 in four overs. Malinga gave only 19 runs in his four overs while Mendis was also impressive with figures two for 27.
Chasing a target of 140 was a tricky one on the slow Premadasa track as batsmen often got confused whether to attack or rotate the strike.
Imran Nazir was in his element as he tried to hit each and every ball out of the sight but failed to connect most of them before he dragged one off Mendis onto his stumps. Nazir made 20 with the help of three fours.
Then it was Angelo Mathews who got Sri Lanka back into the game trapping in-form Nasir Jamshed leg before and then deceived Kamran Akmal with a slower one.
From 57 for three, Pakistan soon became 64 for four, as Herath bowled Shoaib Malik with a classical left-armer’s delivery. He flighted one to invite Malik for a drive and the ball turned a shade after pitching to knock the batsman’s off-stump.
Having got a reprieve at 24, Hafeez who till now was happy to play the waiting game, chanced his arms. First he pulled Mathews for a boundary and then reverse swept Herath. He followed it up with a straight six.
But Hafeez finally departed for 42 when he was stumped trying to give Herath the charge.
Shahid Afridi’s woeful time with the bat continued as Herath cleaned up in the next ball to register his third wicket.
Pakistan were tottering at 91 for six at that stage and from there victory became out of question.
Earlier, electing to bat, some scratchy batting by opener Tillekaratne Dilshan hampered Sri Lanka’s chances of putting up a big total as they managed only 139 for four in their stipulated 20 overs.
While captain Mahela Jayawardene had provided the right start with a 36-ball-42, Dilshan struggled throughout the middle overs as he managed only 35 off 42 balls.
The Lankans managed 16 runs of the final over when Thisara Perera hit a couple of fours while Angelo Mathews also managed a thickish edge.
Shahid Afridi, Mohammed Hafeez, Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal got a wicket each but more importantly didn’t go for too many runs.
The decision to promote left-hander Jeevan Mendis above Mathews and Perrera was baffling as the former played a lot of dot balls that added to the pressure on Dilshan.
Jayawardene’s batting was a treat to watch. He perished trying to play the sweep shot one too many but till he was executing it with ease in the first 10 overs, there was no better sight.
A shrewd thinker, Jayawardene saw that off-spinner Ajmal, with his doosras, leg-spinner Afridi and slow left-arm orthodox Raza Hassan were all spinning the ball away from him. In the circumstances, he found the reverse sweep as the safest option and he played it with consummate ease.
He started with a slog sweep of Hassan and then got a couple of boundaries off Ajmal -- first one was a lap shot over short fine leg and then a reverse sweep.
Watching Jayawardene take charge, Dilshan, who had started off on a rousing note with two boundaries in the first two overs, played the second fiddle.
The Lankan captain first reverse swept Afridi for a boundary and then in the bowler's next over, the Lankan skipper hit him over extra cover for another boundary as it brought up the 50. Such was Jayawardene's dominance that he scored 34 of the first 50 runs with Dilshan's contribution being only 15.