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Pak sets 322 target for Sri Lanka
Colombo, Aug 7 (Agencies):
Published on 7 Aug. 2009 10:54 PM IST
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You can argue the pressure of winning the series wasn't there, but maiden ODI centuries don't come cleaner than this. Walking to the crease with Pakistan 130 for 4, with a struggling captain searching for a partner and only Shahid Afridi to follow, young Umar Akmal took the opportunity to prove that not all is as made to believe about Pakistan's domestic set-up with an amazing 72-ball 102. Batting wasn't easy early on a slow surface and Sri Lanka's spinners had struck thrice in succession to leave Pakistan struggling. Umar's effervescence complimented Younis Khan's first half-century as Pakistan captain and their 176-run stand paved the way for a competitive 321 in the first of three fixtures at the Premadasa. Where Imran Nazir, Mohammad Yousuf and Misbah-ul-Haq struggled against a combination of tidy bowling and a slow track, Umar appeared comfortable from the get-go. He showed he wasn't going to get bogged down, swinging his seventh delivery - from Ajantha Mendis, no less - over long-on for a six and flicked almost effortlessly. Finding the narrowest of gaps in the field and always sprinting hard between the wickets, he began rebuilding. His was a sensible approach, poaching the odd boundary and turning ones into twos while also dominating the perceived weaker bowlers. Thilina Kandamby's part-time legspin was dumped with ferocity for six by Umar, twinkle-toed and sure of placement. There was also the delicate; the first four in 22 overs came when a confident Umar dabbed Angelo Mathews past a leaping Kumar Sangakkara. Credit is due to the man at the other end. Younis' innings contained crisp drives and wristy flicks and stolen runs but most importantly it was an effort that allowed Umar to flourish. Around his captain, Umar could play his own game and Pakistan didn't feel the pinch. Pakistan had been hurt in the series by Younis' indifferent form. Today they realised just what a difference runs from him can mean. Importantly, he quickly assessed conditions and played with a welcome smoothness. Younis' innings was controlled, he ran hard between the wickets, and Pakistan's run-rate lifted to nearly five-and-a-half an over. With Umar rattling along Younis too changed his game. Soon defence turned to single hunting, gliding and efficiently flicking in the gaps. Umar's half-century came up from 46 balls, after which he upped his strike-rate. Always keen to get back and across and then mow the ball over the on-side, he took consecutive fours off Mendis and then clubbed Lasith Malinga for 13 in the 46th over. Another effortless six off Malinga followed in the 48th over, the back leg once more lifted to gain power. This was unadulterated hitting, each shot played with utmost confidence. Younis departed for 89 in the 49th over trying to get six but Umar reached three figures with two balls to spare. He clipped the ball to deep square leg, ran two, then got two more as Sangakkara's throw was not backed up. Instantly his face - up till now all furrowed brow and gritted teeth - erupted in cherubic celebration as the Pakistan team stood to applaud a brilliant effort. This partnership was in contrast to the way Imran Nazir and Kamran Akmal were made to work hard against an accurate new-ball pair on a track on which the ball regularly stopped before reaching the batsmen. Nazir, clearly looking rusty after nearly two seasons out of the side, was reprieved by the umpires on 7 and 19 before he missed a high full toss. There were just two well-timed boundaries in the first six overs, with the majority of runs coming through inside-edges and miscues. Once Kamran realised the track wasn't conducive to reaching out for the ball, he held back and punched the ball off the back foot. A few spanked off-side boundaries later he appeared in the groove and his feet were moving well. But while trying to sweep Malinga Bandara without covering the stumps, Kamran was bowled around the legs for 57. And just when the situation demanded a cautious approach, Yousuf reached out and edged Mendis to Mahela Jayawardene at first slip. Pakistan were 115 for 3, which became 130 for 4 when Bandara had Misbah lbw trying to nudge to leg. Luckily for them Umar and Younis were in a different zone.

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