x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Mohammad Hafeez makes the difference for Pakistan

Middle-order batsman scores match-winning century against Sri Lanka in first of five ODIs in Sharjah, reports Ahmed Rizvi.

Mohammad Hafeez, left, returned to form by scoring a hundred in Sharjah on Wednesday night. Satish Kumar / The National
Mohammad Hafeez, left, returned to form by scoring a hundred in Sharjah on Wednesday night. Satish Kumar / The National

Pakistan 322-5 (50 ov)

Sri Lanka 311 (49.4 ov)

Toss Pakistan, chose to bat

Pakistan Hafeez 122, Maqsood 73, Sharjeel 61; Lakmal 2-73

Sri Lanka Kusal 64, Chandimal 46, Senanayake 42, Prasanna 42, Junaid 3-44

Man of the match Mohammad Hafeez (Pakistan)

SHARJAH // Ask any of the world’s best batsmen and Lasith Malinga will certainly make the list of the toughest bowlers they have ever faced.

His wild, untamed looks and flaming mane as he sprints to crease would make any batsman twitchy. Then his low-arm, slinging action never ceases to unsettle the most settled of players in the crease.

Spare a thought for a debutante then, especially if the first delivery he receives from the Sri Lankan ace is his dreaded skidding bouncer, which should come with a health warning. Sharjeel Khan, playing his first one-day international, tried to duck under it, but did not bend enough and the ball surely left a bruise on his right shoulder.

Sensing prey, Malinga hurled another bouncer on his next ball, but the 24 year old rocked back and pulled him into the stands, nonchalantly.

If Sharjeel wanted to make a statement, that shot alone would have been enough, but he added a delicate flick and a slice through the off side to announce his arrival in pretty bold fonts.

Malinga, who had started the match with a maiden and conceded only two more boundaries in his following eight overs, was taken off after that 16-run second over.

A battle won, Sharjeel turned his attention to the rest in the Sri Lankan attack, contemptuous and cruel as he cut, pulled, flicked and drove his way to an entertaining run-a-ball 61 before lofting Seekkuge Prasanna down to long-on.

Mohammad Hafeez, under pressure to keep his place in the side with single-digit scores in his last three innings and a highest of 33 in eight previous visits to the crease, made sure Pakistan did not waste the good start provided by Sharjeel with a chanceless 122 (7x4, 4x6).

Hafeez was the mainstay of the innings, adding 83 for the second wicket with Sharjeel and 140 runs for the third with Sohaib Maqsood (73), who clubbed four maximums in his 68-ball stay.

Shahid Afridi (34) then provided the finishing touches with a 12-ball blitzkrieg as Pakistan posted 322 for five, their best batting performance in 40 matches since the 329 for six against India in last year’s Asia Cup.

Incidentally, Hafeez had scored a century in that game as well – his last three-figure score in ODIs against a Test-playing nation other than Zimbabwe.

Pakistan, however, lost that match in Dhaka and they almost this one as well.

Sri Lanka has successfully chased a score in excess of 320 only once – against England at Leeds in 2006. They did make 411 at Rajkot in 2009, but fell short of India’s score by three runs.

Tillakaratne Dilshan made 160 in that crazy run chase against India and Kumar Sangakkara added 90. Last night, the first was caught in the deep for 30 and the second – 2013’s ODI Cricketer of the Year – contributed 23.

When Sangakkara departed in the 26th over with the scoreboard reading 127, the asking rate had already climbed to eight.

Entering the final 10 overs of their run chase, Sri Lanka needed 109 with five wickets in hand, and Prasanna (42) and Sachithra Senanayake (42) made a brave bid for it, adding 87 runs for the eight wicket in just 7.3 overs, but Sri Lanka eventually finished 11 runs short.