Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammed Amir’s 75-run partnership led Pakistan to an unlikely three-wicket victory over Sri Lanka on Monday.
The match was effectively a quarter-final, with the winner advancing to the semi-finals and the loser being eliminated from the tournament. Both sides had blown “hot and cold” earlier in the tournament. Sri Lanka slumped to a 96-run defeat to South Africa, before rebounding to record a famous seven-wicket triumph over defending champions India.
Pakistan, on the other hand, began the tournament in disastrous fashion. They crashed to 164 all out and a 124-run defeat to bitter rivals India in their opener. They showed a lot of character in their next outing, where they handed No 1 ODI side South Africa a 19-run loss after a rain-affected encounter.
Pakistan won the toss and invited Sri Lanka to bat. Sri Lanka’s innings was held together by a 78-run 4th wicket stand by opener Niroshan Dickwella (73) and Angelo Matthews (39). The untimely dismissals of both batsmen and a disastrous three overs which saw the fall of four wickets for six runs threatened to derail Sri Lanka’s innings.
Sri Lanka’s tail wagged, however, as Asela Gunaratne (27) and Suranga Lakmal (26) added 46 runs for the eighth wicket that was worth its weight in gold. After Lakmal had departed, Gunaratne combined with Lasith Malinga for a further 19 runs that helped Sri Lanka reach 236 all out.
Pakistan’s reply got off to a promising start. Azhar Ali and Fakhar Zaman batted with assurance to reach 74 in the 11th over. Just as the partnership was beginning to flourish, Nuwan Pradeep removed Zaman shortly after he had reached his half-century off just 36 balls.
There was a period of brief recovery between Babar Azam (10) and Ali before Pradeep accounted for the wicket of Azam. The Pakistan slide continued when Mohammad Hafeez was dismissed for just one to leave Pakistan in a spot of bother at 95-3.
When Lakmal brought Ali’s innings of 34 to an end in the 20th over, Pakistan well and truly had their backs to the wall.
Shoaib Malik and Sarfraz Ahmed appeared to be sparking a fightback by rotating the strike and slowly chipping away at the 237 run target. The departure of Malik for 11 in the 25th over,however, left Pakistan struggling on 131-5.
In the very next over, the loss of Imad Wasim for four left the innings stuttering on 137-6. Despite the loss of those around him, captain Sarfraz Ahmed continued to fight to keep his team in the game. He guided his side past the 150-run mark before the Pakistan innings was dealt another blow after the loss of Fahim Ashraf for 15.
Ahmed finally found a partner able to stick with him in Mohammed Amir (28). The pair brought Pakistan back into the match by keeping the scoreboard ticking, aided by some dismal Sri Lankan fielding.
As Pakistan crept closer to the target so Sri Lanka made mistakes. They leaked runs through over-throws and wides to make Pakistan’s task that much easier. When Thisara Perera dropped Ahmed at mid-wicket in the 39th over, Sri Lanka appeared to have dropped the match.
When they grassed another chance to get rid of Ahmed in the 41st over it was clear this was Pakistan’s day. When Ahmed and Amir brought up their 50 partnership in the 42nd over, victory was in sight. When Sarfraz brought up his half-century off 70 balls, the match was all but won.
In the end, Pakistan were saved by the highest eighth wicket stand in Champions Trophy history and now face England on Wednesday for a place in the final.
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