#PakvsSL: The men in green bring home a gleeful dream
Pakistan was on top of their game during the ODI series against Sri Lanka, and the trend continued in the T20 series that followed. Winning eight international matches on the bounce is supposed to be good enough, right?
The Islanders were not able to unravel the knot Pakistan had tied around them in the first T20, as Pakistan’s domination stretched into the shortest format of the game.
Sri Lanka lost wickets at regular intervals and could only muster 102 runs, batting first with none of the batsmen making a mark. It is quite obvious that when you dismiss a team for such a low score, the bowlers must have done well, and this was evident as every bowler chipped in with effective contributions.
Hasan Ali picked up three wickets again – he hardly puts the wrong foot forward wrong these days. Apart from his consistently good performances, another particularly refreshing sight is his endearingly energetic attitude, which galvanises the entire team on the field. In a short span of time, he has become an indispensable part of the Pakistan squad.
Usman Shinwari was once again in the thick of things, picking up important wickets both in his opening spell and at the back end of the innings. Pakistan’s age-old knack of producing quality fast-bowlers just seems to continue, and Usman is the latest addition to their armoury. Though he faded away after making his T20 debut in 2013, his re introduction in international cricket has been more robust.
Pakistan took longer than they should have in chasing the target, but they did get the job done. Ahmed Shehzad played another cagey innings; Shoaib Malik rarely disappoints whenever Sania Mirza is watching from the stands, while Mohammad Hafeez provided the finishing touches.
Both teams were at it once again on the very next day for the second encounter of the series. A part of me wanted Sri Lanka to win the second T20 (please don’t draw conclusions about my patriotism from that) in order to avoid making the much-awaited Lahore match a dead rubber.
The match seemed to be developing into a good contest with Sri Lanka, batting first this time too, heading towards a competitive total but a chaotic few minutes saw them lose eight wickets for mere 13 runs.
The biggest beneficiary of the Lankan collapse was Faheem Ashraf, who bagged a hat-trick, although he was the last person on my list to achieve the feat that day. He became the first Pakistani bowler in 15 years to pick up a hat-trick; that should have felt great!
The night had an interesting order of events, with both teams fielding remarkably well; getting run-out was the top most agenda for the batsmen and we even had an appeal for obstructing the field.
Pakistan’s top order failed to impress for the second time in a row. Fakhar Zaman was unfortunate to be run-out for a low score; Babar Azam had another single digit outing, although he was at the wrong end of an absolute umpiring howler; and Ahmed was not convincing despite getting into the 20s once again.
Pakistan’s matches are often grippingly cinematic, and while this was not the case in the previous few matches, finally a match went down to the wire, courtesy Sri Lanka’s resilient fight back.
While we avoided another painfully boring match, Pakistan was still on the right side of the result. It took two of their senior pros to get them over the line in the previous match, but this time, it was down to young Shadab Khan to steal the limelight. His quick fire cameo with the bat resulted in a vigorous hug from the skipper himself, but more importantly, gave Pakistan an unassailable lead in the series.
Well, things did not go exactly as I wanted them to, but a series win in the bag is a nice thing, isn’t it?
Off to Lahore!
As expected, a massive and boisterous crowd turned up for the match at the Gaddafi Stadium, hoping for yet another Pakistan win and a whitewash. Thankfully, the fans got what they wished for.
For a change, Pakistan was batting first, but they were not keen to repeat the mistakes made by the Islanders in the first couple of matches. The home side got off to a good start and remained relatively in control throughout their batting effort, which helped Pakistan post a solid total of 179 on the board.
It’s about time Pakistan look for options other than Ahmed at the top of the order, and by slotting Umar Amin in, they took a step in the right direction. He had a pretty decent outing with the bat, looked far more composed and worked well in tandem with Fakhar; talk about grabbing an opportunity with both hands.
Just when Pakistan needed someone to provide the onslaught in the death overs, Malik raised his arm once more. He has been striking it clean in the latter stages of the innings in the recent past and the Lahoris were lucky enough to witness yet another Malik special. His 50 off 23 balls tilted the balance in Pakistan’s favour. No wonder he was awarded both Man of the Match and Man of the Series.
Pakistan bowlers were keen to carry on with their momentum, putting forth a fine bowling display for the third time in a row. They kept the Lankan batsmen in check and ensured that Pakistan doesn't seem threatened at any point by their batting progress.
It took Mohammad Amir quite a while to play international cricket in Pakistan, 3,066 days to be precise, and he made the occasion all the more special by bagging four wickets and bowling exceedingly well.
Although Pakistan won the series, the Sri Lankan contingent would not head home heavy-hearted after receiving so much love and support from the entire Pakistani nation. The decision to visit Pakistan and putting behind the events of 2009 was a brave one, and Pakistanis would never be able to thank them enough for it.
Cricket comes home!