The virtual knock out format of this Champions Trophy, which also had the rain having a major bearing on the direction of the results, means that you will always have at least a couple of underwhelming matches within the framework of the tournament. The fact that one of them resulted directly in the winning team qualifying for the semi-finals despite their unconvincing play is the unfortunate downside of this, and though Pakistan may well show they are worthy semi-finalists in a few days’ time, it didn’t resolve the feeling that it could all have been done better.
Sri Lanka’s batting had overhauled India’s massive total the other day, but they never looked likely to cause the same ructions again today. Apart from Dickwalla’s 73 at the top of the order the rest of the batting line up struggled to get the Pakistan pace attack away. Still, at 3/161 off 31 overs with Dickwalla and Mathews at the crease they looked as though they could push towards 300 if they didn’t lose wickets. Sarfraz intelligently brought back Amir and Junaid, and the result was four wickets for six runs in 23 deliveries that changed the course of the innings. Lakmal and Gunaratne managed to cobble enough together to conclude the innings at 236, but it had been a struggle all the way through, and one could only imagine Pakistan could cruise to victory. Perhaps thy thought that themselves.
Pakistan raced to 0/74 off 11 overs, obviously in a hurry to cut down their deficit. From here though, Pakistan rode their luck, and through losing wickets on a regular basis kept finding themselves with new batsmen at the crease. There was little care shown through this though, and when Fahim Ashraf was run out (poorly) Pakistan was 7/162, still needing 75 runs to win. Skipper Sarfarz was joined by the cussed Mohammed Amir, and together they propelled themselves onwards. Sri Lanka, though in the ascendancy, then dropped two sitter off Sarfraz that would in all likelihood have sealed the match for them. Those reprieves were costly though. Amir nicked and nudged, Sarfraz blocked and swung by numbers, and somehow with the rabble that Sri Lanka had become in the field, the Pakistanis managed to get to the finishing line with more than five overs in hand and without losing a further wicket.
Was it inexperience? Was it nerves? Was it the mercurial nature of Pakistan cricket rising as it does on occasion? Certainly Sri Lanka has only itself to blame. The loss of those four middle order wickets for 6 runs, and the four dropped catches throughout the Pakistan innings, meant that they handed enough opportunity to their opponents for them to sneak away with victory. They will be crushed, while Pakistan will go into a semi-final as the lowest ranked ODI team in the tournament knowing they will have to do everything right if they are to defeat England on Wednesday.