Aravinda de Silva continued his run of form at the Sharjah stadium in the fourth game of the Sharjah Cup, attaining two personal landmarks, getting his third man-of-the-match award and putting his team in the final with a convincing 51-run victory over Pakistan. He made 134 of his team's 251 for seven and was the rock on which the innings was built. Rather, he built it on himself.
De Silva got to his first hundred at Sharjah, something which he missed doing by three runs in the last fixture which Lanka had. He also reached 1,000 runs at the venue. But more than the runs he made, it was the manner in which he made them that made him the cynosure; there was a phase when he scored freely, then one, after a couple of wickets fell, when he realised that he would have to bat till the end and slowed down, and then the post-century phase when he went berserk. It was a classy knock.
Winning the toss and batting is not something Lanka do often but they decided to do this and promptly saw themselves in trouble at 11 for two with Kaluwitharane and Atapattu going cheaply. De Silva and Jayasuriya repaired the damage with a stand of 124 during which they raised the run-rate above five. They were seemingly set to play out the entire 50 overs themselves when Jayasuriya fell for 67.
De Silva saw his skipper go cheaply at 137 and then he lost Mahanama at 171. He had slowed down somewhat after Ranatunge left. The scoring rate dropped as well as no other batsmen seemed to be able to score as freely as he and Jayasuriya had done. Tillekaratne also fell before the score crossed 200 and de Silva had to play cautiously for he had only the tail for company.
Once he crossed 100 in the 48th over, de Silva took on the appearance of a man in a great hurry. He hit Waqar for 15 in the 49th and Saqlain for 18 off the first five balls of the last over before he gifted his wicket away off the last. One six came off Waqar and two off Saqlain, all clean shots which cleared the boundary with plenty to spare.
On a slow wicket where the spinners did prevent stroke making and curb exuberance to a large extent, de Silva's showing was admirable. He found the gaps with ease and picked the right ball to loft over the field. Afridi came off well despite the onslaught and got through his quota for just 30 runs and a wicket; Malik picked up a couple. Saqlain did well until that last over. But in this mood, it was impossible for any bowler to contain de Silva.
Given a target of over five an over, Pakistan needed one batsman to play a big innings or else several small contributions. The hour did not find the men needed. Afridi went very early and Sajid Ali (what is he doing in the team?) managed just 15. The only worthwhile partnership was between Rameez and Inzamam who put together 77 for the fourth. But after this, they were only halfway there. Murali and Dharmasena were effective on the slow surface, getting three apiece.
Another decent partnership never materialised; Moin and Akram stayed awhile but somehow one always had the feeling that the target was too much for this team; the batting looks awfully shaky. Malik, Rameez and Inzamam are all that can be counted on after Ijaz's woeful showing and subsequent omission; Afridi has to be counselled so that he can use his abundant talent to advantage without trying to hit every ball into the Arabian Sea.
Lanka may rest some of their regulars for their next game against Zimbabwe. Pakistan have to face Zimbabwe again to decide the other finalist. The Zimbabweans have not won a match so far and will have to win both their remaining fixtures to be sure of a place in the final; they could go through by winning one but will have to raise their run-rate. Just one question comes to mind: what would Razaullah Khan say now?