Of all the players on show during the first game of the ODI series between Sri Lanka and Pakistan at Dambulla, Mohammad Hafeez would have been among the ones under a lot of pressure. After all, he had to miss the previous match against Sri Lanka, after his action was found suspect. This was not the first time the Pakistan all-rounder had been reported for a dodgy action. He would have been frustrated for sure, as he headed to clear his action for what seems like an unending procedure. But, Hafeez, known for calm demeanour did not display any frustrations, if he had any.
Hafeez came up with a highly commendable performance with both bat and ball, and almost single-handedly took his team 1-0 in the one-day series. What was most impressive about Hafeez’s performance with the bat was that he got four of Sri Lanka’s proper batsmen. His scalps included the openers, Kusal Perera, Tillakaratne Dishan, Upul Tharanga and the dangerous Thisara Perera. Of the four, Perera was the only one to not have gotten a start. But, Perera’s wicket also came at a time when Lanka were looking to open up.
Hafeez’s effort with the bat also made an impression. Although Sri Lanka had only put up a middling score, it was a kind of target that could have proved tricky had Pakistan lost some early wickets, especially considering their affinity to collapse. But, Hafeez ensured nothing of that sort happened. Skipper Azhar Ali and Ahmed Shehzad gave the team good starts, but both were gone in their 20s. Hafeez kept the Lankans at bay, rotating the strike at will, and opening up with boundaries once the bowlers began to lose confidence.
While Hafeez was hero for Pakistan on the day, there were some significant contributions from the others as well. Shoaib Malik ensured there was no collapse in store for Pakistan, seeing the side through with an unbeaten half-century after Hafeez was dismissed having crossed his ton. Earlier, Mohammad Irfan came up with a solid effort on comeback although he failed to pick up any wickets. Rahat Ali and Anwar Ali came up with reasonable spells and although Yasir Shah wasn’t as dangerous as he proved in the Tests, he kept things tight.
Sri Lanka lost the match primarily because most of their batsmen got out after getting out. Perera, Dilshan, Lahiru Thirimanne, Tharanga and Angelo Mathews, Lanka’s first five batsmen, were all culprits as they fell in their 20s and 30s. Dinesh Chandimal came up with a brilliant half-century, but his knock came a bit too late in the day. Their bowling also wasn’t very impressive. Lasith Malinga, their most experienced bowler, went wicketless while Seekkuge Prasanna went for eight an over. Lanka will have to show significant improvements with both bat and ball to recover.
-- By A Cricket Analyst