Dilhara Fernando, an accurate set of throws and the omnipresent panic button accompanying the Pakistan team earned Sri Lanka a well-deserved victory in the final match of the ODI series in Abu Dhabi and avoid a series whitewash.
Fernando captured three wickets, including a two-in-two, and Tillakaratne Dilshan inflicted two direct hits as Pakistan lost their way after a relatively decent start. Shoaib Malik showed the responsibility of a captain, but was left stranded on 79 as, bar Rao Iftikhar Anjum, no one provided him any assistance.
Chasing a stiff 297 to claim a 3-0 series win over World Cup finalists Sri Lanka, Pakistan were in trouble right from the start as Salman Butt, opening with the recalled Mohammad Hafeez, was cleaned up by Farveez Maharoof off an inside edge. Yasir Hameed, growing in stature of late, joined Hafeez in a display of aggression and swing-and-miss. While Hafeez danced down the track at will, missing more often than connecting, Hameed chose to time the ball sweetly from his crease. Dividends for both as boundaries started flowing freely and Fernando replaced Lasith Malinga in the eight over after the latter was hit for a brace of fours by Hameed.
The sojourn was soon over as Hafeez went for a run that was never there as the ever-alert Dilshan picked up, slipped, managed to regain balance and hit down the stumps. Hafeez was gone for a patchy 34 and in came an agonisingly out-of-form maestro Mohammad Yousuf. While Yousuf showed glimpses of his class, Hameed tried going for a pull too many and top-edged Fernando after a brisk 22.
Malik applied a cautious approach to his innings but things soon turned for the worse as first Yousuf was leg before to Fernando for a scrappy five (an aggregate of 54 runs in the series) and was followed back into the pavilion by debutant Fawad Alam who played his first ball, a low full toss, back to the bowler thus capping off a lackluster debut.
Kamran Akmal, who had showed signs of maturity with the bat during the earlier games, was run out while backing up too far and Pakistan had just lose five wickets for only nine runs with credit going to the Sri Lankan bowlers and fielders. From that point onwards, pride was all that mattered as Malik shared a fifty partnership with Rao but never threatened the ever-increasing run-rate as Pakistan's decision of making five changes backfired immensely.
Earlier, a last gasp cameo from Dilshan and Malinga ensured Sri Lanka came within distance of the 300-mark after some rash strokeplay and indifferent running threatened to derail the innings. Dilshan, who surprisingly came into bat at number eight, smashed 28 off only 14 balls and shared a 38-run ninth wicket partnership and enabled Sri Lanka to post a respectable 296.
Sri Lanka dominated proceedings in the middle stages thanks mainly to a 124-run partnership between Mahela Jayawardene and Chamara Silva. The duo mixed aggression with caution aptly as they penalised poor bowling with excellent shots all around the wicket. Mohammad Asif, stinginess personified under normal circumstances, was dispatched to all corners throughout the day and finished with shocking figures of one for 76.
The aggression and intent at the start of play was clearly on display as Upul Tharanga took to Asif right from the start. Debutant Najaf Shah, however, clearly troubled Sanath Jayasuria in the initial part of the innings until the maestro cut him back to size with some lofted on-drives. Rao's introduction, however, not only slowed proceedings but also got Pakistan the vital breakthroughs they so desperately required. Picking up three wickets before Jayawardene and Silva took charge, Rao gave the national selectors a perfect headache for the future.
From then till the clumsiness set in, it was all Jayawardene and Silva as Pakistan's ground fielding and catching left much to be desired. Just as Sri Lanka threatended a post-300 total, two wickets in two overs by Hafeez titled the balance right back into Pakistan's favour as Jayawardene was bowled for 83 and FMaharoof, Sri Lanka's top scorer before this match, went for only 10. A wicket apiece for Asif and Rehman ensured Sri Lanka worked hard to achieve a decent total, which they did due to some sloppy fielding by Pakistan as well as a few lusty landing outside the boundary.
The victory sealed a perfect send off to Tom Moody, Sri Lanka's out-going coach, and also marks the end of a hectic schedule for Sri Lanka who barely had any rest after their hugely successful World Cup campaign. However, based on the display of energy and commitment shown in the field tonight, Moody leaves behind a team well equipped to take on mighty challenges in the future even without the services of their star performers.