Sharjah: There was no respite for Sri Lanka. In one of the more closely-fought encounters on this tour, it was Pakistan who prevailed by five wickets after their opponents promised to deliver better, only to falter and give it away. First, with their batting, when they began aggressively and scored at around nine an over in the first ten overs before slowing down considerably and eventually capitulating in the second half. And then it happened with the ball, their spinners putting them in control through tight spells and wickets, not knowing Dilhara Fernando and some fielders would fail to hold their nerve at the death.
Misbah-ul-Haq stood tall for Pakistan, doing what Dinesh Chandimal, who made an enterprising half-century, failed to achieve after guiding the innings - seeing his team through to the end and finishing on a high. Pakistan's seamers did what their counterparts failed to do - Aizaz Cheema and Umar Gul cleaned up the innings, taking five wickets in the last two overs, to restrict the visitors to a chaseable score; on the other hand, Fernando doled out length deliveries that brought down the required-rate considerably.
Ajantha Mendis, returning from injury, and captain Tillakaratne Dilshan restrained Pakistan in their pursuit of 142 after Imran Farhat began brightly. He inaugurated the innings with three crisp boundaries off the first over of the innings but brought on to bowl in the sixth over, inside the Powerplay, Mendis struck, removing Farhat, who holed out. Umar Akmal's first-ball duck was crucial in reducing the tempo of the innings further when he adventurously made room to Dilshan and was bowled playing inside the line.
The next four overs yielded just 19, but at one end was Misbah, building up for a flourish at a later stage. He warmed up by slogging a six off Dilruwan Perera over midwicket and triggered the turn in the tide when 43 were needed off four overs, Afridi just having joined him at the other end.
Fernando dropped slightly short to be pulled to the square boundary, and then overcompensated by bowling too full; Misbah unleashed a cracking drive through cover and whipped a full toss behind square to make it 14 in the over. Mendis still had an over left, but Dilshan gave Fernando another go, much to, presumably, his regret. Two length balls followed in the penultimate over - Cheema picked up three wickets at the same stage in the Sri Lankan innings while aiming at the blockhole - and Afridi dispatched them over long-on and deep midwicket. Though he fell off the final delivery, he'd brought down the equation to nine off the last over.
The win was hastened by a botched-up fielding attempt. The first ball of the final over, Misbah drove Malinga to long-off. What should have been a single became two as the fielder took time to get to the ball, and if that wasn't enough, his wayward throw, missed first by Kumar Sangakkara and then by the short fine leg backing up awkwardly, resulted in six runs in total. With two needed off four, Shoaib Malik edged one wide of third man to seal victory with Sri Lanka still appealing desperately, thinking it was a deflection off the pad.
Though Cheema was the star towards the end of Sri Lanka's innings, it was Saeed Ajmal who started the slide. Ajmal's variations have played a major role in his rise to the No.1 spot in the ODI rankings and with expert changes in flight, pace and his mastery over the doosra, he choked Sri Lanka. In a potentially risky move, he was brought on inside the Powerplay, like Mendis, and was launched over mid-off not long after. The next ball, though, was generously flighted and Dilshan was tempted into the slog-sweep which he top-edged to offer a comfortable catch. Ajmal was particularly effective round the wicket, the batsmen often caught confused about the direction of his turn.
Afridi and Mohammad Hafeez slowed down the innings further, making boundaries a rare commodity. Sangakkara, Sri Lanka's best batsman, chipped a catch back to Hafeez while Angelo Mathews and Chamara Silva, from whom the visitors would have expected a surge at the death, were run out. Racing to 91 for 3 at the end of 10 overs, Sri Lanka only managed 50 in the next ten. Cheema added the finishing touches by making up for his troubles early on. In the penultimate over, he trapped Chandimal in front, had Thisara Perera caught behind and bowled Malinga. Sri Lanka fell way short of the target they were on track for. They met with the same fate with the ball.