Sri Lanka vs Pakistan, ICC Champions Trophy 2017: Butterfinger Sri Lanka, steady Sarfraz Ahmed send Pakistan into semis

Without any prodding from Sri Lanka, Pakistan began self-imploding with unforced errors, a couple of premier batsmen getting leading edges to nothing deliveries and a veteran gloving a short ball to the wicketkeeper. Yet Sarfraz Ahmed stayed steady

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | Cardiff | Updated: June 13, 2017 10:34:20 am
sri lanka vs pakistan, pak vs sl, sarfraz, Sarfraz Ahmed, indian express, sports news, cricket news Sarfraz’s 79-ball 61* helped Pakistan win by three wickets. AP photo

It’s considered the most unfortunate way to get out in cricket, being run out at the non-striker’s end from a ricochet off the bowler’s hands. But when it’s Pakistan you can expect some sloppiness attached to it, where the batsman can’t be fully sympathised with. Like was the case with Fahim Ashraf here, as he lazily attempted to plonk his bat in despite the ball hurtling towards the stumps well within his eye line. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time for Pakistan.

They seemed to be in cruise mode with the openers having provided a fast start. And at 92/1 at a run rate of nearly 6 an over, Pakistan were doing an easy job of their run chase. This was their game to lose.

But then Pakistan did a Pakistan. Without any prodding or persuasion from Sri Lanka, they began self-imploding with a range of unforced errors, a couple of premier batsmen getting leading edges to nothing deliveries and a veteran gloving a short ball to the wicketkeeper. Then came the Ashraf run-out, and Pakistan were now 162/7 and on the edge, just like that.

They had one thing going for them though. Sarfraz Ahmed, their captain, was at the crease. Safraz plays cricket for such situations, having spent a career being the saviour. This was suddenly Sri Lanka’s game to lose. And suddenly after having raised hopes of turning defeat into victory, they were the ones who seemed rattled. Straightforward catches were dropped, run-out chances were muffed up and there were overthrows for good measure.

Sarfraz grew up trying to keep his cricket a secret from his father who didn’t approve of him playing the sport. He then spent the next dozen years trying to convince the disapproving Pakistani selectors that he was the man they sought to solve the wicketkeeping puzzle that had rattled them for years. It’s not surprising to know that Safraz idolises Moin Khan. He’s got the same cheekiness about him, but also the audacity to punch above his weight, and keep doing so. He might never be the most aesthetically pleasing batsman, like Kamran Akmal could be on his day. His game is built more on prods, pushes, and hoicks across the line with a few pleasant drives thrown in there. Much like Moin. But what he brings is an incredibly calm head under pressure and a calculative mind that’s always conjuring match situations and the most practical way of achieving targets. It’s one of the key reasons, apart from how bad the rest had been at it, for him to be handed the captaincy last year.

Pakistan weren’t chasing too many, and even after the collapse, they were just 75 runs short of a spot in the knockouts. At the other end stood Mohammad Amir, who can’t be short of any motivation to prove a point whenever he walks out on a cricket field in England.

Amir had shown glimpses of his prodigious talent with the ball earlier in the day, and so had Hasan Ali and Junaid Khan to hold the Lankans to a paltry total by the tournament’s standards. But here was his chance to be a hero with the bat, by simply giving his captain the company he needed. And with the Sri Lankans wilting, he kept his end up, allowing Sarfraz to nudge his team, literally, to a dramatic win.

And just a week after looking like the no-hopers of the tournament, with their coach reduced to a pitifully helpless state, Pakistan somehow have managed to end up being just a win away from the final and two from being crowned champions despite having tried their best to spoil their own party earlier in the day.

Brief scores: SL 236 all out in 49.2 overs (Dickwella 73; Junaid 3/40, Hasan Ali 3/43) lost to Pakistan 237/7 in 44.5 overs (Sarfraz 61 not out, Fakhar Zaman 50; Pradeep 3/60)

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