A total of 133 is not considered challenging at all in T20s. However, as Pakistan found out in first T20I at Hambantota against Sri Lanka, if the opposition is inspired and the chasing side overconfident, it could even end up being a match-winning total. Pakistan made a disastrous start to their chase, losing skipper Mohammad Hafeez and Shakeel Ansar to the first two balls of the innings, bowled by Nuwan Kulasekara. In a clear sign of irreverence to the bowling attack, the two slashed the ball in the air towards Tillakaratne Dilshan instead of getting their eye in. The magnificent start bolstered the Lankans, who never allowed the Pakistani batsmen to settle down after that.
While Kulasekara dealt the visitors with the early blows, there was a brilliant spell of bowling by Angelo Mathews that never let the opposition release the pressure. Mathews, bowling just short of the length and close to the batsman’s body, gave away just eight runs in the four-over spell, and was suitably rewarded with the scalps of Khalid Latif and Shoaib Malik. The only time the Pakistanis looked in somewhat control of the game was when the spinners Kaushal Lokuarachchi and Sachithra Senanayake were introduced. Mahela Jayawardene then marshalled his troops well to keep Pakistan down in the dumps.
Pakistan had their moments in the game, but there were a couple of factors that turned the tide in the home team’s favour. First and foremost, Lahiru Thirimanne’s 25-ball 30 and, more significantly, Thisara Perera’s whirlwind cameo of 32 from 16 balls allowed them to reach 132 after they were struggling at 65 for 5 at one stage. Although the score seemed gettable at the half stage, Lanka’s bowlers made it look like a massive target and, in hindsight, Perera’s knock made the big difference.
Another aspect of Lanka’s game that deserves praise was their fielding effort. While they are always known to be lions on the field, Friday’s effort was something special. First, Dilshan picked up two catches, off the first two balls of Pakistan’s innings, that flew to him at decent pace. An ordinary fielder could have been caught off guard, but Dilshan was alert as ever in the backward point region, and made the catches look easy as well.
The next big moment in the game arrived when Perera dived full to take a spectacular catch that sent back ex Pakistan skipper Shoaib Malik. It was a crucial grab since Malik is renowned as a dangerous hitter in T20s, and a decent knock by him could have turned the game Pakistan’s way. The Lankans were to do no wrong in the field on this day though as Shahid Afridi’s traditional swipe at the ball found Lokuarachchi in the way.
Pakistan were never in the hunt following the early blows, and the 37-run victory proved that they were comprehensively beaten.