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HAMBANTOTA: Shahid Afridi was on a roll, rapping the batsmen repeatedly on the pads, letting his appeals assume the intonation of a persistent plea – the kind one associates with a jilted lover on bended knee.
Afridi was mixing it up, bowling with his back to the wall trying to restrict Sri Lanka to below 122 – a total that was build almost entirely around his first-innings half-century, scored amid yet another wrecked batting performance from Pakistan.
It was Sahibzada’s unbeaten 33-ball 52 that rescued Pakistan from 41-4 in the 11th over to relative respectability, as he combined with Shoaib Malik for 68 runs in an invaluable fifth-wicket stand, after Mohammad Hafiz chose to bat. Borne of his own effort, it was understandable that Afridi wasn’t willing to yield an inch when Sri Lanka began their chase in what was his 50th Twenty20 International game.
So there he was, wise with age but not subdued, turning his arm over to Tillakaratne Dilshan and Chamara Kapugadera, beating them, deceiving them, following up with questioning roars to the unmoved umpire. Sri Lanka were already two down, having lost Kumar Sangakkara to needless aggression and the inexplicably promoted Nuwan Kulasekara to, well, a rush of blood to the head, although the target still remained well within reach.
With his appeals falling on deaf ears there was possibly only one way to get through, and Afridi did just that. A faster one tied Dilshan up as he went for the cut, and rattled into the stumps. In his third over, the Pathan was slogged for six by Kapugedara, but on the very next ball – a forceful slider – the Lankan’s stumps lay in disarray.
Shahid Khan finished his quota of four with two scalps for 17, and at that stage the home team needed 48 to win off the last six overs with six wickets in hand – Pakistan’s regular inroads into Sri Lanka’s batting order had impeded the scoring to the point that drastic hitting out was now required were the home team to seal a series win.
But the pressure finally got too much even for a side that batted deep. Sohail Tanvir removed the dangerous Chandimal, and comeback man Mohammad Sami’s blinding pace skittled out the rest, as Pakistan tied the two-match series with a 23-run win. Afridi even had a hand in the last wicket to fall when he pouched Angelo Mathews, who was captaining his side, at long-off.
Earlier, all eyes were on Hafeez and the looming possibility of a fourth successive duck for the new skipper. Hafeez avoided that dishonor, went on to score 24 as Lanka’s seamers and spinners both tightened the net around Pakistan, also causing a steady trickle of dismissals. It was finally left to Afridi, who was dropped on 42 by Dilshan, to shore up his side and yank them up to 122 – which became the lowest total defended successfully by Pakistan in a Twenty20 game.