Kusal record fifty wins tough chase

217797.3It was the tale of two lefties in Pallekele. Kusal Perera hammered Sri Lanka’s joint fastest fifty in ODIs, which made a target of 288 look like a cakewalk. But when Pakistan’s tenacity brought them back and put the game on a razor’s edge – 92 runs needed off 112 balls with only four wickets left – debutant Sachith Pathirana produced a decisive cameo -33 off 28 – to help the hosts square the series with an action-packed two-wicket victory.

Sri Lanka have struggled to find batsmen down the order who can handle the pressure of a chase, or that of a top-order collapse. From his first impression, Pathirana seems a good bet going forward. Although known more for his ability with the ball, hence his batting position at No. 8, Pathirana displayed excellent mettle under fire.

He allowed himself a few balls to get used to the pitch and the wisdom of that decision became apparent very soon. From 4 off 11, he produced a smart late cut to shift gears. He smashed anything short either side of the pitch, and was even able to pick Yasir Shah’s googlies. One of those was calmly lofted over mid-off’s head. It must have helped though that he had a very composed Dinesh Chandimal for company, with he added 52 runs off 49 balls.

Pakistan deserve credit for finding their senses after Kusal bashed them silly. He reached his half-century off 17 balls, filled with pick-up shots over the leg side very much like the one who’s record he equaled, Sanath Jayasuriya.

Mohammad Irfan’s extra bounce posed little threat; Kusal’s smashed him at a strike-rate of 242.85. Kusal v Rahat Ali was another no-contest as well – 26 runs off eight balls. Even Mohammad Hafeez, with his penchant for dismissing left-handers, was carted around at a strike rate of 242.85. Finally Kusal faced Anwar Ali for only three balls, but it included a violent flat, hard, vicious six over square leg. The innings lasted only 25 deliveries, but yielded 68 runs. By the time he creamed one of the bevy of length balls that Pakistan paraded for him down the throat of deep square leg, Sri Lanka were 82 for 1 in the ninth over. At the same time, the visitors had been 27 for 0. Slow and steady does have a history of winning the race, but it was the hare’s day today.

The tortoise, of course, did not throw it away. Even with three runs required off 18 balls, Anwar Ali got a leading edge from Thisara Perera to settle in point’s hands. But as that was happening, Chandimal had made sure to cross. Chandimal, who had produced a fine half-century four days ago but ended up on the losing side, did not want to feel that disappointment again. He struck a measured 48 off 63 balls and was there until the end, as per his new role as a finisher, and sealed the third highest chase in Sri Lanka.

The fortunes of both teams changed as frequently and somewhat drastically. Pakistan won a good toss, but their top order was not allowed to capitalise because Sri Lanka’s bowlers were extremely tight. At one point Angelo Mathews, who trusted himself to take the new ball and bowl in the death, bowled 24 dot balls in a five-overs spell. But the other bowlers could not maintain their levels through the innings. And Pakistan took advantage of that.

Azhar Ali overcame a slow start to make his fifth fifty-plus score in eight ODIs. Then Shoaib Malik struck a run-a-ball fifty to help provide momentum. And finally Mohammad Rizwan hit 52 off 58 balls, and pasted Lastith Malinga around for 20 runs in the 47th over to leave Pakistan with an excellent chance to extend the lead they had coming into this game. As it stands, Sri Lanka have squared it 1-1. (Courtesy Cricinfo)