Andrew Fidel Fernando in ESPNcrciinfo, 30 September 2019, where the title runs “Babar Azam ton, Usman Shinwari five-for crush Sri Lanka”
Babar Azam struck an imperious first century on home soil to lead Pakistan to an imposing total, before Usman Shinwari and company had Sri Lanka five down inside 11 overs, to essentially seal a comfortable victory. Sri Lanka fought in patches, most notably through the record sixth-wicket stand worth 177 between Shehan Jayasuriya and Dasun Shanaka. But they lost too much ground in the rest of the match for even that partnership to mean anything. Chasing 306, they were all out for 238 in the 47th over.
Shinwari finished with figures of 5 for 51, with Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz delivering cheap overs while taking a wicket apiece themselves. It was Babar’s 115 off 105 balls, though, that had set the game up for Pakistan – his 111-run partnership with Haris Sohail forming the centrepiece of their innings.
It was the 11th century of Babar’s ODI career, his third against Sri Lanka, and third of his last 11 innings, with four half-centuries and two scores of over 40 having been hit through that period as well. That he’s a blinding limited-overs talent has been known for some years now, but in the last few months, Babar has suggested he is coming into a new, more-consistent period in his career. During the course of this innings, he crossed 1000 runs for this calendar year, in which he averages 62.41 after 19 innings.
And on a flat surface, his batting always seemed effortless. Babar thumped his eleventh ball past mid-on to collect his first boundary, before launching Wanindu Hasaranga over the midwicket boundary next over. His striking would become more and more regal as the innings wore on, and in between the singles and twos would be effortlessly collected.
He got to fifty with a sumptuous cover drive, off the 55th delivery he faced, and then raised the tempo. His most productive over was the 34th of the innings, when he hit legspinner Hasaranga for two sixes over long-on. The hundred was brought up with a boundary as well, a cut shot to the backward point boundary off the 97th ball he faced.
He holed out in the death – one of four Pakistan batsmen to fall between the 40th and 49th overs. But he, along with Haris and also Fakhar Zaman, who had earlier struck a fifty and been involved in a 73-run opening stand, had provided Pakistan with an outstanding platform. Iftikhar Ahmed, playing his first ODI since 2015, did the most to capitalise on the top order’s work, hitting 32 not out off 20 balls, as Pakistan reaped 72 in their last seven overs.
Sri Lanka’s collapse was so dramatic, they at one stage seemed a risk of being dismissed for below 78 – their previous lowest score against Pakistan. The chase had begun promisingly enough, with an elegantly cover-driven four first ball from Danushka Gunathilaka. But when Shinwari seamed one through the gate of Sadeera Samarawickrama in the fourth over, and Gunathilaka was out miscuing Amir to mid-on soon after that, they were already in despair at 22 for 2.
It would get a lot worse very quickly. The score was still 22 when Avishka Fernando spooned Shinwari to mid-on to be out for seven-ball duck. It was still22 when new batsman Lahiru Thirimanne inside-edged a ball that nipped back at him to be caught behind later in that same Shinwari over. Oshada Fernando at least got himself off the mark, but that’s all he did, before he missed a straightening Imad Wasim delivery, and was rapped on the pad in front of the stumps. At 28 for 5, the chase seemed buried.
Jayasuriya and Shanaka’s excavation act was steady, but never particularly slow – with both being busy batsmen. The risk-free singles and twos came first, before eventually they felt confident enough to venture occasional boundaries – both batsmen taking a liking to the legspin of Shadab Khan in particular.
When Shanaka walloped two fours and a six in the space of three Shinwari deliveries in the 28th over, it seemed as if the pair were ready to begin making a concerted effort to bring down the required rate, which had crept up to well over eight by this point, but that was not the path they chose. They continued to build slowly, only occasionally hitting out to keep the required rate in single figures.
They were not helped by one of the stadium’s light towers, which failed on two separate occasions just as the partnership seemed to be gaining some real momentum. Perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered either way, though. Despite the pair’s valiant efforts, they were still some distance from giving Pakistan a real scare.
In the end, both batsmen fell in quick succession – Jayasuriya spurning a maiden international hundred when he edged Shinwari behind on 96. Shanaka fell for 68 early in the following over, with Sri Lanka still 101 runs short of the target. Hasaranga struck some late boundaries, but Pakistan had long sewn up the match.