Hambantota, Sri Lanka: This was a match decided by a 40-minute passage of play either side of the break, both 20-minute pockets clinched by the home side. In a low-scoring contest made possible by bowler-friendly conditions, Sri Lanka held their nerve better than Pakistan, surging to a 37-run victory to take a 1-0 lead in the two-match Twenty20 series.
Struggling for fluency on a two-paced pitch and in conditions that encouraged seam and swing bowling, Sri Lanka finally found unexpected impetus in the final fourth of their innings. Mahela Jayawardena, the Sri Lanka captain, must have wondered about the wisdom of batting first when his side stumbled to 77 for five after 15 overs, before Thisara Perera shed the shackles in the last five overs which produced a whopping 55 runs.
Sri Lanka's 132 for seven, accrued on the back of Perera’s 16-ball blitz that netted him 32, wasn’t threatening by any stretch of the imagination, but intelligent bowling and electric catching with Perera again in the forefront tilted the balance in their favour.
Nuwan Kulasekara set the ball rolling, prising out Mohammad Hafeez, in his first international outing as Pakistan skipper, and Shakeel Ansar, the debutant wicketkeeper, with the first two deliveries of the chase, both caught by Tillakaratne Dilshan.
Ahmed Shehzad, the opener, battled on even as his colleagues rapidly deserted him, undone by the versatility of Lasith Malinga and tied down by Angelo Mathews, who returned the most economical T20 figures by a Sri Lankan (4-1-8-2). However, faced with a steeply mounting run rate, Shehzad paid the price for improvisation and was bowled by Sachithra Senanayake, signalling the end of the Pakistani resistance.
Shehzad alone of the Pakistani batsmen appeared to have the measure of the pitch and a Sri Lankan attack that was a little light beyond Malinga, Kulasekara and Mathews. Jayawardena marshalled his resources admirably, his task made easier by two spectacular catches. Perera at third man made excellent ground and launched himself full length to his right to hold on to Shoaib Malik’s slash-cut when still airborne, while Kaushal Lokuarachchi pulled off another stunner backpedalling from short third-man to get rid of the dangerous Shahid Afridi for 1.
Sri Lanka’s innings had begun much like Pakistan's, Sohail Tanvir doing the early damage during an uninterrupted four-over burst that netted him three for 12. Tanvir, the left-arm paceman on the comeback trail, accounted for Jayawardena in his first over, had Dilshan holing out to long-leg in his next, and forced Kumar Sangakkara to drag a wide ball on to his stumps in his third.
Lahiru Thirimanne showed brief fluency, striking Mohammad Sami for three consecutive fours, but Mathews's was a tortured stay. His 24-ball misery that yielded just nine was ended by Saeed Ajmal, the off-spinner who didn't come on till the 13th over.
Lokuarachchi and Thirimanne fell off consecutive deliveries in the 17th over and the end seemed nigh, but Perera launched an audacious assault with Kulasekara for support to trigger a decisive shift in momentum.
Umar Gul, one of three Pakistani bowlers with more than 50 T20 International scalps, was taken to the cleaners as he conceded 43 off four overs, Perera smashing him for sixes twice in the last three overs to provide the thrust which the bowlers made capital of.