CARDIFF, Wales: Pakistan marched into the semi-finals of the ICC Champions Trophy after recording a dramatic three-wicket victory against Sri Lanka here at Sophia Gardens on Monday.
The fast bowlers set up the win before fifties from rookie opener Fakhar Zaman and skipper Sarfraz Ahmed sealed it.
But above all, it was a horrible fielding display from Sri Lanka that allowed Pakistan to set a date with title-favourites England in the last-four on Wednesday (tomorrow).
With a place in the semi-finals at stake, there were many twists and turns in the match.
Sri Lanka squandered a chance of posting a big total as they slipped from 160-3 in 30 overs to 167-7. Then Pakistan allowed them to inch to a somewhat respectable 236.
Later, Pakistan seemed cruising towards a comfortable win as they raced to 92-1 in just over 11 overs on the back of a blazing 50 off just 36 balls from Fakhar Zaman. But they slumped to 162-7 before Sarfraz and Mohammad Amir resurrected the chase with an unbeaten 75-run partnership for the eighth wicket to take them past the finish line.
Sarfraz, Pakistan’s hero with an unbeaten 61 off 79 balls, lived dangerously but was given a series of reprieves by the Sri Lankan fielders. They could have ran him out, caught him out but kept wasting the chances. Sri Lanka’s worst moment in the game came in the 39th over when Thisara Perera dropped a dolly after Sarfraz had hit a Lasith Malinga delivery straight into the hands of the all-rounder at mid-on.
In the end, it weren’t Pakistan who won the match. It were Sri Lanka who lost it.
The winning shot came from Sarfraz as he hit Malinga to the third-man boundary and then celebrated as if Pakistan had won the Champions Trophy. It was certainly was a big moment for Sarfraz, who is captaining Pakistan for the first time in an ICC event.
“I can’t believe it,” Sarfraz said. “Dropped catches are part of the game. Allah helped us and that’s why Pakistan won today,” he added.
Earlier, Amir woke up from his slumber with a fiery spell that put Pakistan on top at the end of the first innings.
Having gone wicketless in his team’s first two games of the event, Amir scalped the dangerous duo of Niroshan Dickwell (73) and Angelo Mathews (39) in quick succession as the rest of Pakistan’s pace attack also sizzled to dismiss Sri Lanka for 236 in 49.2 overs in what was a virtual quarter-final of the eight-nation spectacle.
Junaid Khan (3-40) and Hasan Ali (3-43) had better figures than Amir (2-53) but it was the left-armer’s twin strike that squeezed the life out of Sri Lanka’s innings.
The Sri Lankans, who took the field in Cardiff after a sensational win against defending champions India at The Oval, were undone by some superb swing bowling by Pakistan’s pace quartet that included debutant Faheem Ashraf (2-37).
Apart from Dickwella who hit 73 from 86 balls and Mathews, no Sri Lankan batsmen could offer any worthwhile resistance. Pakistan opted to bowl on a fresh wicket that had a tinge of green. They chose uncapped Fahim over leggie Shadab and didn’t regret the move. In the end, all ten wickets were picked by their pacers — only the fifth time that Pakistan had done so in ODI history.
It was in the sixth over that Pakistan got the breakthrough they were looking for when opener Danushka Gunathilaka (13 off 20 balls) mistimed a shot off Junaid straight to Shoaib Malik at midwicket. Dickwella then tried to consolidate the innings with Kusal Mendis as the two put on 56 off 58 balls for the second wicket. But just when Sri Lanka had started to look good, two quick wickets in succession forced them on the back foot.
The first to go was Mendis as he failed to fend off some late movement from Hasan in the 15th over. He fell for 27 off 29 balls that included four hits to the fence. Faheem then took the first wicket of his career in the next over when Dinesh Chandimal played onto his stumps while attempting to slap one past the cover. He went for a duck leaving Sri Lanka at 83-3.
When he walked in at that stage, Mathews knew he had to carry out a rescue act. Together with Dickwella, the Sri Lankan captain started to rebuild the innings with great care. There were long, boundary-less spells but the duo kept the scoreboard ticking. Sri Lanka were threatening to put up a big total placed at 160-3 in 30 overs. But everything changed after the second drinks break.
Amir took his first wicket of the tournament as he angled a length ball across Mathews forcing him to deflect a thin inside edge onto the stumps. It was a game changing moment as the Sri Lankans lost one wicket after the other after the fall of their captain, who scored 39 off 54 balls. Junaid then sent back newcomer Dhananjaya de Silva (1) in the next over caught behind the stumps by Sarfraz. The Pakistan captain took another catch in the next over this time a stunner off Amir to send back Dickwella. Thisara Perera (1) fell to Junaid in the next over and at 167-7 Sri Lanka had lost four wickets for just six runs. Suranga Lakmal (26) and Asela Gunaratne (13) put on 46 off 57 balls for the 8th wicket but with Pakistan’s bowling attack in top gear, it was only a matter of time before the innings was over at 236.
Bowling: Amir 10-0-53-2 (2w); Junaid 10-3-40-3 (2w); Imad 8-1-33-0; Fahim 6.2-0-37-2 (1nb, 2w); Hasan 10-0-43-3 (1w); Hafeez 5-0-24-0 (1w)
Umpires: M Erasmus (South Africa) and B N J Oxenford (Australia). TV umpire: C B Gaffaney (New Zealand). Match referee: D C Boon (Australia)