Image courtesy of: ESPNcricinfo
Hafeez’s heroics gave Pakistan an unassailable 3-1 lead
Pakistan all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez smashed his second consecutive century to help the national team seal the ODI series against Sri Lanka in emphatic style.
Hafeez was well supported by spinner Saeed Ajmal, who took four wickets to lead Pakistan to an eight-wicket win in the fourth ODI in Abu Dhabi.
Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews won the toss and elected to bat first.
However, his decision to do so backfired almost immediately as opening batsman Kusal Perera was caught by Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul-Haq at short cover off the bowling of Umar Gul for eight.
Perera’s opening partner, Tillakaratne Dilshan, only scored eight runs as well before he was clean bowled by an absolute cracker of a delivery from Gul.
Things went from bad to worse for Sri Lanka as Dinesh Chandimal could only amass five runs before being brilliantly caught by ul-Haq at short cover to become Gul’s third victim of the match.
Kumar Sangakkara and debutant Ashan Priyanjan stabilised the innings with an outstanding 89-run partnership, during which both batsmen brought up their half-centuries, before Sangakkara was run out for 51 off 78 balls, which included three boundaries.
Priyanjan ended up scoring 74 runs off 93 deliveries, which included 10 boundaries, before he was clean bowled by Junaid Khan.
Priyanjan became just the third Sri Lankan batsman to score a half-century on debut.
Nuwan Kulasekara could only score one run before being dismissed caught and bowled by Saeed Ajmal.
Just a few overs later, Mathews was on his way back to the pavilion after being given out for a valiant 38 off the bowling of Ajmal.
Mathews decided to review the decision, but replays showed that the ball pitched in line and was going to hit middle stump halfway up.
Sachithra Senanayake was dismissed the very next delivery as he was cleaned up for a golden duck.
Kithuruwan Vithanage smashed a quickfire 27 before he was caught by Shoaib Maqsood at deep midwicket off the bowling of Khan.
Sri Lanka were eventually bowled out for 225 when Lasith Malinga was caught behind off the bowling of Ajmal.
Ajmal was the pick of the Pakistan bowlers with four wickets, while Gul snapped up three and Khan chipped in with two.
Chasing 226 to win the series, Pakistan got off to a rocky start as opening batsman Sharjeel Khan was clean bowled by Mathews for 13.
Mohammed Hafeez and Ahmed Shehzad made up for the early loss of Khan with a brilliant 84-run partnership, during which Hafeez registered his half-century before Shehzad was caught by Senanayake at first slip off the bowling of Suranga Lakmal for 44.
From that point on it was all Pakistan as Hafeez and Maqsood put together an unbeaten 111-run partnership, during which Hafeez recorded his sixth ODI century, to lead the national team to victory by eight wickets.
Hafeez finished on 113 off 119 balls, which included 12 boundaries and two sixes, while Maqsood remained undefeated on 46 off 56 deliveries, which included four boundaries and a six.
Lakmal and Mathews picked up one wicket apiece.
Mathews was disappointed with his team’s performance, and said: “We didn’t do very well in all departments. They played good cricket and were far better than us, so they deserved to win.
“The way Ashan and Vithanage batted was pleasing. They took the challenge on. The Pakistani attack is very good so they played well. We have to play for our pride in the next game, at least try and lose 3-2. We can’t let it go 4-1, so we have to play our best team.”
Ul-Haq was ecstatic that the team had been able to continue their winning ways after beating South Africa just last month.
“Really pleasing performance by the team,” he said. “I think Umar Gul is setting the tone right from the start, getting wickets from the new ball, and everyone else is really bowling and batting well. Shehzad has really put in some good efforts at the top, while Hafeez is having an unforgettable series in the way he is playing and finishing games for us, along with Maqsood who is playing well.
“Every game is important, and we want to win the next game also. We also need to keep our players going, but the main thing is that you really want to win every game, and we will try to do that.”
Hafeez was named Man of the Match for his stellar century.
“It’s a great honour to achieve that for the country and equal the record of one of the great batsmen of Pakistan (3 centuries in a bilateral series, Zaheer Abbas did it in 1982 v India),” he said. “There was time where I was under pressure, but thanks to the supporters, and the team for supporting me.
“At the start of the series there was a problem but I was able to work on it. It was something very special for the team to win this series and we want to finish the last match on a high.”