Defending champions Pakistan got their Asia Cup campaign off to a bad start by losing the tournament opener by 12 runs against Sri Lanka at the Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium in Fatullah yesterday. Sri Lanka rode on a fine ton by Lahiru Thirimanne to post 296 for six before their bowlers, led by a five-wicket haul by Lasith Malinga, delivered a narrow win despite a stirring counter attack from Pakistan.
With 82 runs needed off the last 10 overs, Pakistan skipper Misbahul Haq and Umar Akmal launched a scathing onslaught. Akmal hammered a six and two fours in the 41st over bowled by Suranga Lakmal and followed it up with two more boundaries in the next over by Sachithra Senanayake, bringing the equation down to a very manageable 57 off eight overs with six wickets in hand. But things changed drastically when Akmal was caught behind off Lakmal, which was swiftly followed by Shahid Afridi's wicket. Then came the killer blow when Misbah holed out to deep square-leg off Malinga. Bilawal Bhatti led the tailenders in an unlikely victory charge, but Malinga was too good, picking up the last five wickets to fall, bowling Bhatti to seal the victory.
In chase of 297, Sharjeel Khan gave the initial impetus with a 23-ball 26 but his ambitious pull off Lakmal found the hands of midwicket in the seventh over. Ahmed Shehzad then picked up the mantle and hit boundaries in each of the next four overs, but his promising start ended when a ball from left-arm spinner Chaturanga de Silva sneaked through his forward defence in the 13th over. Pakistan were in hot water when, in the next over, Angelo Mathews trapped Mohammad Hafeez in front to leave the team at 83 for three. Sohaib Maqsood joined skipper Misbah in the middle and added 38 runs in a sedate, 10-over stand before hitting a rank long hop from Senanayake straight down deep midwicket's throat.
Then Akmal came in and along with his captain, lifted the run rate for the final charge.
Earlier, after choosing to bat, Sri Lanka's innings was built on the 161-run second-wicket partnership between Kumar Sangakkara and Thirimanne. Initially consolidating after Umar Gul dismissed opener Kusal Perera, the pair steadily built up the tempo with the odd off-side-piercing boundary. By the time Saeed Ajmal and Afridi were introduced, both were absolutely at ease on the easy-paced Fatullah wicket. Singles were picked at will and boundaries dispatched whenever the bowlers erred in length.
Against the run of play Gul banged one in short to have Sangakkara pulling straight to midwicket. Undeterred, Thirimanne, after hitting the innings's first six off Mohammad Hafeez, soon unfurled a picturesque cover drive off Gul for the single that gave him his second ODI century. But the batting Powerplay proved more hindrance than help as Sri Lanka lost both Thirimanne -- driving loosely at Ajmal to be bowled -- and Mahela Jayawardene, chopping on off Afridi, while adding only 29 runs in the five overs. Thisara Perera soon holed out at deep midwicket off Afridi in the 43rd over, before de Silva's run-out in the next over. Sri Lanka skipper Angelo Mathews carried the charge in the slog overs and although the captain scored an unbeaten 50-ball 55, Pakistan's bowlers -- aided by the late cluster of wickets -- did well to concede just 64 runs in the last 10 overs.