Catches win matches, is a widely reckoned saying in the game of cricket. A bowler may give his best, lure the batsman to commit a mistake and create an opportunity of a wicket but it has to be equally backed by the fielders. The virtual quarter-final between Sri Lanka and Pakistan at Cardiff on Monday saw one of the most nail-biting contests in the history of the tournament with the latter emerging victorious. Sri Lanka dropped as many as three crucial catches in the high-voltage encounter to let the momentum drift away and with it, probably the match.
Lasith Malinga is undoubtedly in the twilight of his career and his participation in another ICC event is very unlikely unless he is match fit. Sri Lanka turned to their most experienced bowler in a crunch situation at Cardiff and Malinga didn’t disappoint as he created a couple of opportunities when it was needed the most. But, Sri Lankan fielders let him down by not hanging on to those couple of match-turning catches. If the team is eyeing for a semifinal berth, then they have to convert the half-chances into opportunities.
Pakistan were outstanding with the ball; their pacers did a commendable job in scalping all the 10 Sri Lankan wickets and restricting them to 236. The pace battery of Junaid Khan, Mohammad Amir, Fahim Ashraf and Hasan Ali turned the tide in the middle and kept chipping wickets at regular intervals. Junaid Khan was alluring to watch and so was Hasan Ali. Sri Lanka were in comfortable position at one stage when they were well placed at 161 for three inside 32 overs. They lost four batsmen in the middle-order for just six runs and a lot of this credit goes to some immaculate bowling and good execution of plans.
A total of close to 300 looked on the cards but some attacking captaincy and wily pace bowling saw them stumble to 236 all out in the ultimate over. Pakistan were astute enough to rectify their errors and were undoubtedly better on the field. They hung on to crucial catches and was led by example by their skipper Sarfraz Ahmed. They gave themselves a solid chance by restricting Sri Lanka to such a modest total. Also, this was the fifth occasion when Pakistan seamers accounted for all ten wickets in a One-Day International (ODI) game.
Chasing 237 was always going to be a challenge for the Pakistani side as they have not been a good chasing side. And considering the nature of the pitch, which assisted the seamers, Sri Lankan bowlers had a good chance of bouncing back. Sri Lanka squandered a golden opportunity of getting an early wicket of Azhar Ali for a duck in the very first over. Danushka Gunathilaka dropped Azhar Ali at point and the latter added 34 runs to his tally after getting a reprieve. The talented Fakhar Zaman took charge and came out all guns blazing at the top. Azhar Ali as always looked calm and composed for his 34 as Pakistan got off to a flying start. But soon, things changed. Pakistan also witnessed a collapse in their batting-order. From being 74 for no loss they were stumbling at 137 for six inside 26 overs. Things changed rapidly and Pakistan, who once threatened to chase down the target with ease, were now in hot water.
Wickets kept falling like nine pins but Sarfraz Ahmed stood like a rock at the other end. Fahim Ashraf looked good but was extremely unfortunate to have been run-out. Thisara Perera got a part of his hand to a drive from Sarfraz Ahmed onto the non-striker’s stumps and Ashraf’s bat was slightly in the air. Barring Sarfraz Ahmed, all the Pakistani batsmen were dismissed inside 30 overs and with 75 more runs needed to win. Nine out of ten times, the bowling team would emerge victorious from this juncture. And Sri Lanka could have avoided being the exception had they clinched on the catches offered.
The duo were confronting the Sri Lankan bowlers with utmost care and then Angelo Mathews threw the ball to his most experienced bowler in search for a wicket. Malinga not only created an opportunity but created a massive one as he outfoxed the recognised batsman Sarfraz Ahmed with a slower one, which he chipped straight to Thisara Perera at mid-on. In a rush of blood, perhaps, Perera dropped a sitter, which he would have cupped 100 out of 100 times in practice sessions. Sri Lankan hopes took a beating, as many thought Perera dropped the match.
Malinga didn’t give up, he steamed in once again in the next over and created another opportunity on the very first ball. He bowled a bouncer to Sarfraz, which was top-edged towards Seekkuge Prasanna at square leg. Prasanna covered a good ground and got there but couldn’t hold on. Although this was a half-chance but going by the current fielding standards, one is expected to grab these half-chances. Sri Lanka gave a well-set set batsman two reprieves and Sarfraz was astute enough to capitalise on it and carry the team over the line.
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Amir and Sarfraz garnered the remaining runs with care as Pakistan won by three wickets. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, had only themselves to be blamed as they were on the brink of a much-needed victory and reserve a berth in the semi-final but some poor fielding didn’t let them achieve fruitful results. They failed to absorb the pressure in the ultimate stages and panicked at a crucial stage, which turned out to be the turning point.