x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Tanvir gives Sri Lanka comic relief

Lasith Malinga and the rest of Sri Lanka's free-spirited cricketers continue to provide the perfect antidote to the political unrest which surrounds them.

LONDON // Lasith Malinga and the rest of Sri Lanka's free-spirited cricketers continue to provide the perfect antidote to the political unrest which surrounds them. They were well short of their best at Lord's yesterday, but are now virtually assured of a place in the World Twenty20 semi-finals after they beat Pakistan by 19 runs.

Two nations who have shared such a chequered past combined in a moving show of solidarity before a ball had been bowled. It was the first time the sides had met since the Sri Lankan team bus was attacked in Lahore earlier this year. Rather than lining up in two separate groups for the national anthems, as is convention, the players intermingled and stood shoulder to shoulder instead. In the stands, supporters of the two nations sat alongside those of India, who were playing West Indies in the day's late game.

As moving as that spectacle was, the cricket itself started in cringeworthy fashion, in particular for Pakistan's much vaunted new-ball bowler, Sohail Tanvir. The extent to which Tanvir's star has waned is startling. A year-and-a-half ago he was the belle of the ball at the first Indian Premier League. His wickets were central to Rajasthan Royals becoming the first champions of that competition. Tanvir deigned to suggest he could command an asking price in the region of $1million (Dh3.67m) - "if not more" - if the auctions were staged again.

Such pride has come before a sharp fall. So poor has his form been that he was overlooked for selection for the starting XI at the start of the recent tour to the UAE. Injuries, most notably to Yasir Arafat, his fellow all-rounder, afforded him a reprieve. Yet all he has managed to do since is prove why he was jettisoned. His first over lasted 11 balls and cost 18 runs. The details read: no ball, wide, dot, wide, no ball, four, one, wide, four, dot, four. It was like Talking Telephone Numbers crossed with Morse code. It gave Sri Lanka the start they were after, but they failed to cash in.

Their progress was clipped by Pakistan's fine spin bowlers. Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi both of whom added two more wickets to their aggregate for the event, and they are still likely to have a decisive say in who wins this tournament. The Sri Lankans made heavy weather of reaching their total of 150. However, bowling - comple-mented by one of the strongest fielding units in the game - is their strong suit, and they confidently went about defending what originally seemed a fragile total.

The fact Muttiah Muralitharan, with more than 1,000 international wickets, is no longer the main attraction of their slow-bowling department tells you all you need to know about Sri Lanka's resources. Ajantha Mendis may be the new in thing, but Muralitharan proved there are still plenty of miles left in his legs yet. When he had Misbah-ul-Haq, the vice captain, and Afridi caught on the square-leg fence in successive balls, Pakistan's excruciating run-chase was dented beyond repair.

Malinga rammed home the advantage, as he picked up three cheap wickets in the final overs. pradley@thenational.ae