ISLAMABAD - Sensational all-round performance of M Hafeez and brilliant fielding of M Rizwan helped green caps register thumping victory against Sri Lanka in the first One Day International played at Dambulla to not only keep Pakistan hopes alive for Champions Trophy place but also give green caps 1-0 lead in the 5-match series.
Hafeez was under enormous pressure and missed third and final Test against Lankan Lions as he was once again reported for suspected action. But hats off to Hafeez, who kept all the negativity behind and almost single-handedly take green caps home with his sensational performance first with the leather and then with the willow. Azhar Ali opted to field first, which was by a strange but bold decision as Pakistan team is never known to chase down even relatively smaller targets. Azhar let Lankans off the hook as at one stage Sri Lanka had lost 4 wickets with 118 runs on the board. Azhar, like Misbah, is a defensive-minded skipper. He should have gone all out for a kill. Had Azhar adopted aggressive approach, Pakistan could have restricted Sri Lankans well below 200 runs. Only Mathews and Chandimal were at the crease. If they were put under pressure, things could have been quite different. Even then some brilliant bowling by Hafeez helped by sensational catching by Rizwan.
Rizwan some took blinder of catches, especially the way he took sensational catch in the slip and then although he touched the rope, but it was a blinder by all means at deep midwicket. He was literally in the air and was looking like superman. It was unbelievable catch and then he also took an almost unbelievable catch while running at short midwicket.
Pakistan team badly needed a super fielder like Rizwan. Team management had taken a huge risk by including two specialist wicketkeepers in the playing XI, but it was worth risk taking. Ahmed Shahzad must have to understand the importance of staying at the crease.
He had developed habit of throwing his wicket away when he had spent initial torrid time at the pitch. His departure had left Pakistan team in all sorts of bother but Hafeez kept his nerves well under control. The way he batted was a treat to watch. He never looked like getting out before ensuring Pakistan cruise home. Shoaib Malik also batted with complete authority and provided much-needed support to Hafeez, who posted a well-deserving ton. But soon after he just played a very silly stroke and gifted his wicket in plate.
Hafeez should have avoided such rash stroke. But no damage was done as Malik ensure green caps reach home with six wickets in hand and 28 balls earlier. Hafeez, Irfan, Rahat and Yasir Shah bowled superbly. Although Irfan remained unlucky not to pick wickets, but he bowled with lot of venom and pace and kept Lankan batsmen under pressure.
The way Pakistani batsmen handled their nemeses Malinga was treat to watch, Malinga always managed to take crucial wickets and turn the tables when it matters most, but he was given a real bashing by the Pakistani batsmen. Especially Hafeez handled him quite comfortably. Now the first task of winning the match with quite ease and comfort is achieved. Pakistani team must not get relaxed, as they are known for complacency and inconsistency. Lanka are more than capable of bouncing back. Pakistan hopes of making it to Champions Trophy solely depend on winning the ODI series. Pakistani team management and coach must ensure players remain hungry for more victory and not get relaxed.