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Four for Sri Lanka after Lasith Malinga five-for

Pak openers stuttered at the start losing both Sharjeel Khan and Ahmed Shehzad with 77 runs on the board.

Malinga celebrates after dismissing Pakistan’s Bilawal Bhatti during the opening match of the Asia Cup in Fatullah on Tuesday. Malinga celebrates after dismissing Pakistan’s Bilawal Bhatti during the opening match of the Asia Cup in Fatullah on Tuesday.

Lasith Malinga took five for 52 as Sri Lanka beat Pakistan by 12 runs to begin their Asia Cup campaign. The win, however, didn’t come that easy. Despite Lahiru Thirimanne’s 102 and Kumar Sangakkara’s 67 that lifted Sri Lanka to a competitive 296-6, the Lankans struggled to pull off their four-point lead in the Asia Cup points table from the opening game.

It was a challenging total but not beyond Pakistan’s reach. Pakistan’s openers stuttered at the start in reply, losing both Sharjeel Khan and Ahmed Shehzad with 77 runs on the board. Then Mohammad Hafeez got out after getting into the groove. It was a real blow, considering Hafeez had scored 449 runs in five ODIs in the bilateral series against Sri Lanka in December. Here, however, he could manage only 18. Soon, the defending champions were reduced to 121 for four in 23.3 overs as Shoaib Maqsood departed. Sri Lanka all but smelled victory.

Misbah stands tall

Misbah-ul-Haq, however, looked unfazed. The Pakistan captain has made a habit of scoring half centuries in chases. Today was no different, when he scored his eighth fifty in his last 10 innings. He got an able ally in Umar Akmal and together they put on 121 runs for the fifth wicket to bring their side back in the contest.

Pakistan reached 242 in the 43rd over when Akmal departed. But with Misbah still at the crease and Shahid Afridi joining him, they still had a big advantage. But Malinga changed the complexion of the game with just two consecutive balls in the 45th over. Both Afridi and Misbah were deceived by his subtle change of pace.

Malinga was not finished yet. He removed Umar Gul — the man who had kept Sri Lanka in check in the first innings with figures of 2/38 from eight overs — and then accounted for Saeed Ajmal and Bilawal Bhatti to return with a five-for. More importantly, his spell in the final overs decided the contest in Sri Lanka’s favour.

After early jitters, Pakistan had managed to pull it back and had gone on to a position of strength. They needed just 55 runs off 46 balls with six wickets in hand — with both Misbah and Akmal at the crease.

Short, but sweet

Yet, in the end, the equation came down to 17 off 12 after Bhatti and Ajmal clattered 17 runs in the 47th over. Then, Malinga came up with his yorkers and cleaned up the tail. Pakistan were all out for 284 in 48.5 overs. Although Pakistan lost by a dozen runs, Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews believed that the Lankans may have been at least 20 runs short.

“I still think we were 20 runs short considering the start Thirimanne and Sangakkara gave us,’’ Mathews said. If not for slinger Malinga, Mathews acknowledged, the Islanders perhaps wouldn’t have taken four points from this game. “Malinga is the best bowler for us, whenever we are under pressure he is our go-to man and he did it again,’’ said the captain.

Misbah, however, was understandably disappointed. “I think Umar (Akmal) batted really well, that was a crucial partnership, we had six wickets in hand and we should have won this game,’’ he said. “The way the pitch was playing, no turn, nothing for the fast bowler, this should have been chased.’’

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