| Pakistan players in a huddle after beating Sri Lanka in Dambulla Saturday. (AFP)
Dambulla, May 10 (AFP): Fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar silenced his critics with a vital two-wicket show to help Pakistan beat Sri Lanka by 79 runs in the opening match of the triangular one-day series here on Saturday.
Pakistan managed to defend their modest total of 199 for eight as they bundled Sri Lanka out for 120, thanks to Akhtar who was under pressure to deliver.
Akhtar (2-19), warned by his country’s cricket chief Tauqir Zia that this tournament would be the last chance to revive his career, responded with a fiery performance to set up his team’s victory.
Sri Lanka could never recover from Akhtar’s early blows and lost their last seven wickets for a paltry 22 runs in a dramatic collapse.
Pakistani skipper Rashid Latif used his main weapon in three short spells and the paceman struck when it mattered most, removing hard-hitting Sanath Jayasuriya in his first over and then a well-set Kumar Sangakkara (29).
Jayasuriya erred in driving and edged a rising ball to second slip where Younis Khan perfectly timed his jump to hold a head-high catch.
Akhtar did more than just taking two wickets as he rattled Sri Lanka in his eight probing overs. He beat skipper Maravan Atapattu (26) and Sangakkara in his opening spell, but was unlucky to find an edge.
Sangakkara, let off on two and 17, failed to cash in on his chances and was caught at point by Shoiab Malik while trying to cut Akhtar.
Seamers Mohammad Sami (two for 19) and Abdul Razzaq (one for 22), and off-spinner Malik (two for 23) also kept pressure on the Sri Lankan batsmen to drive home the advantage given by Akhtar.
Razzaq trapped Atapattu leg before for 26 and Sami accounted for Mahela Jayawardene (22) in a similar fashion to virtually shatter Sri Lanka’s hopes of winning the low-scoring match.
It was all over for Sri Lanka when last specialist batsman Romesh Kaluwitharana was caught by Younis Khan off Malik for no score.
Kaluwitharana had earlier become the seventh wicketkeeper in the world to complete 200 dismissals in one-dayers when he stumped Latif off Muttiah Muralidharan.
Atapattu’s decision to field first after winning the toss appeared to have paid rich dividends as his fast bowlers and spinners never allowed Pakistan batsmen to score freely.