A nail-biting finale wraps up Pakistan's drubbing of Sri Lanka in all three formats. K Shahid reports from the Premadasa Stadium, Colombo

With Pakistan needing over 11 an over in the last six and three wickets remaining, the visitors looked all set to end a hitherto all-conquering tour of Sri Lanka on a mundane note. As Anwar Ali walked to the crease a lot had gone wrong for Pakistan during the day to tarnish the comfortable win in the first T20. They had let Sri Lanka post a daunting 172 after being 90-5 in the 13th over, and then the top-order went AWOL during the chase leaving Pakistan at 40-5 in the eighth over.

As the T20 World Cup draws closer, the team’s performances in the shortest format will continue to be scrutinised. And after convincing wins in the Test and ODI series – despite the tight score-lines – the pressure was on Shahid Afridi’s team to match the exploits of Misbahul Haq’s Test and Azhar Ali’s ODI sides.

Afridi had invited castigating knives before the first ball was bowled in the T20 series as Mohammad Rizwan was picked instead of the ODI vice-captain Sarfraz Ahmed. It is hard to fight a case against anyone being more in-form and more suited to batting in T20 cricket from the current squad than Sarfraz, let alone Rizwan. The case got harder for Afridi – or coach Waqar Younis, who many believe was behind that decision – when Rizwan got out for 17 (18) failing to replicate his decent showing as pressure mounted in synchrony with the expected strike-rate.

Imad Wasim hitting the series winning shot
Imad Wasim hitting the series winning shot

Even though it was Rizwan’s sixth-wicket partnership with Afridi that got Pakistan to within any remote proximity of competing in the second T20, it was largely due to Afridi’s 22-ball 45 as the captain led the surging counterattack. When Anwar Ali replaced Afridi with Pakistan needing 66 runs off 35 balls, few would’ve backed him to top his skipper’s exploits. And how!

Anwar Ali’s 17-ball 46 is one of the finest T20 innings by a Pakistani batsman in a run chase and vindicates Pakistan’s decision to go with a horde of all-rounders which allows them to bat till number 10. It might also signal Anwar Ali’s – who dependably opened the bowling in both T20Is – transition to a more genuine all-rounder at least in the shortest form of the game, if not in the shorter version. Imad Wasim who struck the winning six has also confirmed his slot in the limited-overs squads.

Match Notes (1st T20)
Toss - Pakistan, who chose to bat
Series - Pakistan led the 2-match series 1-0
T20I debuts - DM de Silva, B Fernando, TAM Siriwardana and JDF Vandersay (Sri Lanka)
Player of the match - Sohail Tanvir (Pakistan)

Match Notes (2nd T20)
Toss - Sri Lanka, who chose to bat
Series - Pakistan won the 2-match series 2-0
T20I debuts - DSNFG Jayasuriya and MD Shanaka (Sri Lanka)
Player of the match - Anwar Ali (Pakistan)
Player of the series - Shoaib Malik (Pakistan)
Courtesy: ESPN Cricinfo

With the bowling ban on Mohammed Hafeez, Shoaib Malik has stepped up to the plate with his bowling complementing his batting form. Malik was adjudicated the Man of the Series for his all-round display, which included 46* in the first T20 to help Pakistan reach 175 batting first, and a tidy 3-over spell in the second T20 with figures of 2/16 that included 10 dot balls. Afridi not bowling Malik out was a dubious decision that would’ve been discussed had Pakistan not pulled off the miracle chase.

Anwar Ali
Anwar Ali

Malik’s partnership with Umar Akmal, who made a stellar 46 off 34, had some of the most amazing stroke-play on display. Akmal brought his A-game to the crease as he looks to win his place in the ODI side as well. The no-show in the second T20, albeit courtesy of a run out, will again hamper his chances of getting into a winning ODI squad.

Despite some of the decision making being off, Afridi’s captaincy and overall intent was as positive as it has been for quite some time. His role in turning the second T20 around is unarguable and there’s clear desire in his body language that, for him, usually accompanies the proverbial captain’s armband. Maybe three different captains for the three formats is a top call on the selectors’ part with the team looking good ahead of the T20 World Cup next year.

Sohail Tanvir
Sohail Tanvir

Sohail Tanvir’s Man-of-the-Match display in the first ODI bodes well for his place, as Mohammed Irfan looked out of sorts as the only ‘frontline’ bowler who cannot bat. Up top, Ahmed Shehzad played an okay-ish knock of 46 in the first T20, taking too much time to accelerate, while Mukhtar Ahmed looked a pale imitation of the batsman that was hammering Zimbabwe all over Gaddafi Stadium. This would further enhance the echoes calling for Sarfraz’s return to the T20 starting 11.

There’s palpable pressure on Hafeez every time he takes to the crease following the 12-month ban on his bowling. Even though he seems to have the ODI place cemented, the one-down slot in the T20s is far from guaranteed.

Overall the team looks in good shape ahead of the series against Zimbabwe and England from September to November. As the Test team continues to dominate and the ODI team finally finding its feet, all eyes will be on the T20 squad as the World Cup in India approaches.