• Sri Lanka v Pakistan, 2nd T20, Hambantota

All-round Afridi stars as Pakistan square series

The Report by George Binoy
June 3, 2012
Shahid Afridi slaps one on his way to a half-century © Associated Press

Pakistan 122 for 6 (Afridi 52*, Kulasekara 2-13) beat Sri Lanka 99 (Afridi 2-17) by 23 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Shahid Afridi rescued a limp Pakistan innings from despair and built his team a middling total with an aggressive half-century that was pragmatically constructed. He then proceeded to tenaciously defend his hardwork, and by the time he was through with his spell, Sri Lanka had severely depleted resources to complete an arduous task. The upshot was that Pakistan left Hambantota with the series level at 1-1, and Afridi with his seventh Player-of-the-Match award, a Twenty20 record.

The match played out in a manner remarkably similar to the first game two days ago, only with roles reversed. On Friday, Sri Lanka had chosen to bat and then collapsed, before a hard-hitting cameo from Thisara Perera lifted them. Today, it was Pakistan.

Pakistan's innings was a non-starter until half of it was over, with the Sri Lankan bowlers - both pace and spin - providing meagre opportunities to score while running through the top order. Nuwan Kulasekara bowled sharp inswingers and struck the first blow; Isuru Udana, playing for his country after nearly three years, started with a maiden; and the legspinner Kaushal Lokuarachchi had success in his first two overs. Sri Lanka, who had rested Mahela Jayawardene and Lasith Malinga, had Pakistan for the taking at 41 for 4 after 10.1 overs.

Afridi and Malik started the recovery through singles and rotating strike frequently. When Afridi showed intent by driving the offspinner Sachithra Senanayake to the cover boundary twice, Malik began to play second fiddle, but that did not stop him from taking three consecutive fours off Lokuarachchi in the 15th over. Malik stepped out of his crease to loft the first ball to long-on and drive the second through extra cover. Knowing that the bowler would flatten his trajectory, Malik then stayed back, and pulled the short ball through midwicket.

Their partnership of 68 had a lot of urgent running between the wickets before Afridi began to shift through his gears. He whipped Thisara Perera to the cow-corner boundary, a stroke that had a resemblance to MS Dhoni's helicopter, and lofted inside out through cover. Afridi was dropped on 42 but Malik was not the very next ball. Afridi ended the 19th over with the innings' first six, a blow back over the bowler's - Perera - head. He had begun the over by hitting the ball straight as well, only that went for four. He got to his 50 off 30 balls and had dragged Pakistan to 122.

Sri Lanka had reached 19 for 0 before Kumar Sangakkara slapped Yasir Arafat to cover point. Kulasekara walked in at No. 3, to the surprise and amusement of Tillakaratne Dilshan waiting in the middle, presumably to pinch-hit. He wasn't as good against the new ball as he was with it. All Kulasekara did was play three dots before giving Arafat a second wicket in the fourth over, which cost Pakistan only one run. The third over, from the nippy Sohail Tanvir, had cost only one as well.

Afridi made his entrance in the eighth over, with Sri Lanka 38 for 2, and what an entrance it was. He had two confident lbw appeals against Chamara Kapugedera, and another thunderous shout against Dilshan, turned down in his first four balls. All those deliveries were quicker ones going on with the arm. Dilshan tried to cut the fifth. He missed, and Afridi did not need the umpire this time.

He and Saeed Ajmal began to squeeze the batsmen and only 25 runs came in the five overs they bowled in tandem. In the last of those overs, the 12th, Kapugedera clubbed Afridi for six over long-on, relieving pressure in the Sri Lankan dugout. The next ball was the slider that slid between bat and pad and bowled him. Lahiru Thirimanne once again eased the pressure by taking ten runs off Mohammad Hafeez's only over. Afridi heaped it right back on by conceding only one run in his last over.

Sri Lanka now needed 48 off 36 balls and Afridi could do no more. Tanvir, however, all but shut them out of the game with another miserly over in which he dismissed Dinesh Chandimal. The asking rate was approaching ten an over and the lower-order batsmen found Mohammad Sami's pace too quick to score off. Three perished while trying.

The game ended when Angelo Mathews, the youngest Sri Lankan captain since Arjuna Ranatunga, mis-hit the ball towards long-off in the final over. The fielder ran in from the boundary and tumbled forward to catch the ball and dismiss the hosts for 99. It was Afridi.

George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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