x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Afridi's heroics are in vain for Pakistan

Sri Lanka triumph in opening match and captain's hundred cannot deny hosts as Malinga picks up decisive late wickets.

Shahid Afridi has probably never batted so well, and through such pain, as he did yesterday in the opening match of the Asia Cup. But his 109 proved to be in vain as Sri Lanka won the game by 16 runs. The Pakistan captain was struggling with cramp for much of his majestic innings. In considerable discomfort, he was hobbling at the crease and across the pitch, but Kumar Sangakkara, the Sri Lanka captain, was not ready to allow Afridi a runner, not even after he sank to the ground in pain, clutching his back, after lofting Muttiah Muralitharan into the stands for his seventh six of the innings.

Afridi could have gone into the dressing room for treatment and returned later to continue his battle, but he chose otherwise. Three balls later, he was back in the pavilion, unable to negotiate a ball that jack-knifed into him and took an edge to the wicketkeeper. That brought the 76-ball entertainment to an end and Afridi's valiant knock - his fifth century in one-day internationals and his first in five years - came to nothing as Pakistan fell short chasing 243 for a win.

"It was fantastic to see Afridi, the kind of courage and heart he showed throughout the innings," Salman Butt, the Pakistan vice- captain, said at the post-match TV interview. "We wish we could have won this game, so this 100 could have meant a lot more to us. We knew that if he was there till the end, we would have definitely won the game." Pakistan had lost Butt without a run on the board and had crawled to 32 for four in the 14th over when Afridi came to the middle.

Pakistan's cause looked onerous, if not lost, at that stage, but "Boom Boom" brought his bludgeon out on a track where stroke play seemed difficult. First he gave the sagging run-rate a much-needed boost in a 65-ball partnership for the fifth wicket with Umar Akmal that produced 73 runs before the latter's run-out. Out came the elder Akmal sibling, Kamran, adding 49 runs with his captain in 43 balls before meeting the same fate as his brother.

Pakistan had three wickets in hand when Afridi was dismissed, and they needed 38 from 55 balls for a win. But Lasith Malinga dismissed Mohammad Aamer and Shoaib Akhtar in the same over to leave Abdul Razzaq with 24 runs to get from 5.1 overs with only Mohammad Asif, the No 11, for company. Malinga, however, ensured against any Razzaq heroics by dismissing Asif in his next over to finish with a career-best five for 34.

His efforts put Afridi's brave innings into the shade, and overshadowed the impressive return of Akhtar to the international fold. The Pakistan speedster, whose last match on the international stage was a Twenty20 game in Dubai against Australia last May, marked his comeback with a fiery spell at the start and final figures of three for 41 that restricted Sri Lanka to 242-9 in the opening match of the tournament.

Mahela Jayawardene (54) and Angelo Mathews (55 not out) were the principal contributors to the score, although they had briefly appeared to be in trouble at 150 for six before rallying. "It was a great knock [by Afridi],"Sangakkara said at the post-match TV interview. "It is probably the best I have seen Afridi bat. He was a real difference; the way he dominated the bowling attack, the pitch suddenly looked absolutely flat. "But we managed to hang in there and Malinga decided to come and join the party. "We used him to great effect because he came in and looked like getting a wicket in almost every over." * Compiled by Ahmed Rizvi

Sri Lanka Tharanga c Butt b Akhtar 11 Dilshan c Amin b Asif 18 Sangakkara c U Akmal b Afridi 42 Jayawardene lbw b Malik 54 Samaraweera c U Akmal b Razzaq 17 Mathews not out 55 Kapugedra c U Akmal b Akhtar 2 Maharoof c K Akmal b Akhtar 1 Kulasekara b Aamer 14 Malinga b Aamer 16 Muralitharan not out 1 Extras 6w, 5lb, 11 Total (9 wickets, 50 overs) 242 Fall of wickets: 1-31; 2-36; 3-119; 4-150; 5-150; 6-160; 7-168; 8-211; 9-239; Bowling: Akhtar 10-1-41-3; Asif 9-0-55-1; Aamer 10-1-57-2; Razzaq 8-0-27-1; Afridi 10-0-43-1; Malik 3-0-14-1; Pakistan Hasan c Malinga b Mathews 11 Butt b Malinga 0 Amin c Sangakkara b Malinga 7 Malik c Sangakkara b Mathews 8 U Akmal run out 30 Afridi c Sangakkara b Mural'n 109 K Akmal run out 14 Razzaq not out 26 Aamer b Malinga 5 Akhtar c Mathews b Malinga 1 Asif b Malinga 0 Extras 10w, 5lb, 15 Total (all out, 47 overs) 226 Fall of wickets: 1-0; 2-11; 3-28; 4-32; 5-105; 6-154; 7-205; 8-217; 9-219; 10-226; Bowling: Kulasekara 9-1-25-0; Malinga 10-0-34-5; Mathews 10-1-38-2; Maharoof 8-0-53-0; Muralitharan 10-0-71-1. Sri Lanka won by 16 runs