Cardiff once again proved lucky ground for Pakistan as well as for Sarfraz Ahmed as the skipper knocked a brilliant half century under pressure to anchor his team’s tense three-wicket win over Sri Lanka in the last Group B match at Cardiff on Monday.
Pakistan’s win gave them a chance to have another shot at this very ground on title favorites and hosts England in the first semi-finals on Wednesday.
Sarfraz, who finished with 61 not out off with five boundaries, guided Lasith Malinga for his fifth and jumped in air in jubilation to complete an improbable win. Mohammad Amir finished with a steady and supportive 43-ball 28.
Looked down and out at 162-7 while chasing 237 for a victory, Sarfraz did not lose heart and was ably supported by sloppy Sri Lankan fielders who gave them two easy chances and let slip a great opportunity.
With the score at 194 Thisara Prera grassed an easy chance at mid-on off Lasith Malinga and then when 39 required to win and Sarfraz on 40 substitute fielder Seekkugge Prassana dropped another catch at deep square leg — again off a luckless Malinga.
Sarfraz was aided by a big hearted Amir who helped him add 75 runs for the unbroken eight wicket stand.
It was almost another story of batsmen spoiling a good performance by the bowlers who restricted Sri Lanka to 236 all out in 49.2 overs.
Pakistan were also derailed after a rapid-fire stand of 74 between Fakhar Zaman and Azhar Ali. Zaman, playing only his second ODI, smashed his maiden fifty off just 34 balls, hitting eight fours
Babar Zaman (10< Mohammad Hafeez (one) and Azhar (34) followed to leave Pakistan in danger at 110-4, losing three wickets in the space of 18 runs and 17 balls.
Shoaib Malik shaped well in his 250th ODI but failed to make the occasion memorable as he nicked the ball while hooking a Lasith Malinga short pitched ball, leaving Pakistan at 131-5, still 106 runs short.
Pakistan pace bowlers Junaid Khan (3-40), Hasan Ali (3-43), Fahim Ashraf (2-37) and Mohammad Amir (2-53) shared the spoils as Sri Lanka were restricted to 236 in 49.2 overs after they were sent into bat by Pakistan.
This becomes the first time that four Pakistan pacemen took two wickets each since against South Africa at Auckland n 2015 and fifth time in their ODI history.
Sri Lanka were cruising well at 82-1 with Niroshan Dickwella (73) and Kushal Mendis (27) shraing 56 for the second wicket before Pakistan took two wickets in the space of just one run. Hasan dismissed Mendis while debutant Fahim Ashraf bowled Dinesh Chandimal for a duck.
That left Dickwella and skipper Angelo Mathews (39) to steady the innings through their 78-run stand before Sarfraz Ahmed brought his frontline bowlers Junaid Khan and Amir as they desperately needed wickets. Amir took the lead by bowling Mendis while Junaid had Dhanan Jeya de Silva (one) and Thisara Prera (one) to put breaks on the innings.
Sri Lanka lost four wickets in the space of six runs off 25 balls. But from 167-7 Asela Gunaratna (27) and Suranga Lakmal (26) helped add 69 runs for the last three wickets.
The second semi-final is in Birmingham with defending champions India taking on Bangladesh on Thursday.