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Hafeez offer ailing teams some respite

Pakistan’s top order moved into better touch in their only World T20 practice match, as Mohammad Hafeez composed 70 not out from 49 balls, to help set up a 15-run victory over Sri Lanka. New addition Ahmed Shehzad’s 18 off 19 balls was the lightest and slowest contribution from Pakistan’s top three, but it was nevertheless part of a steady foundation.

Sri Lanka’s emergency no. 3, Lahiru Thirimanne, took another step towards justifying his own late selection. He made a measured 45 from 37 balls, having also top-scored for Sri Lanka in the first warm-up game, against New Zealand. Thirimanne was typically strong against spin in Kolkata, bludgeoning a six over cow corner and hitting two more fours in the seventh over bowled by Shahid Afridi. Early signs are that Sri Lanka will look to Thirimanne to alleviate the problems against slow bowling that had plagued them during the Asia Cup.

Worries over Tillakaratne Dilshan’s batting were not eased by a first-ball duck, as he gloved a very fine short ball from Mohammad Irfan to the wicketkeeper. Dinesh Chandimal played good hand, which featured a rousing 18-run over against Wahab Riaz, but wickets tumbled after his departure. Angelo Mathews’ stretch without a substantial score will also heighten concerns. He was part of a middle order that gave up five wickets for 27 runs, and effectively surrendered the game.

Imad Wasim was wrecker-in-chief through that period, claiming 4 for 25. Having already accounted for Chandimal, he had Chamara Kapugedara and Thirimanne caught, before slipping a quicker ball through Mathews’ defences to end his spell.

In Pakistan’s innings, Hafeez had begun confidently against spin, as Rangana Herath was brought on to bowl just after the Powerplay. Though initially tentative against the pace of Dushmantha Chameera, he was eventually cracking boundaries off the quick men as well. Hafeez hit nine fours and a six in his innings.

Pakistan effectively played with only 11 players, but Sri Lanka continued to experiment, trialling eight bowlers in this match. At present they appear to have a serviceable attack for the Powerplay and middle overs, but are missing the skill of Lasith Malinga at the death. Pakistan hit 51 runs off the four final overs of their innings. Malinga has arrived in India now, but remains in doubt for the first match against Afghanistan, on Thursday.

Shehzad hit a four off Nuwan Kulasekara’s first over, and another off Sachithra Senanayake, but otherwise struggled to pierce the infield. He chopped a short-of-a-length Chameera ball onto his stumps in the eighth over, but Hafeez had some support from Sarfraz Ahmed and Umar Akmal, who made 13 and 19 respectively.

Mohammad Amir was miserly rather than menacing with the ball, sending down four overs for just 20 runs. Irfan was even cheaper, and took two scalps on a track that had a little bounce.

The match was played to substantial local interest. Thousands had bought tickets to the game despite it being on a Monday afternoon, and Pakistan were not without significant support. There were also signs of tight security – each of Eden Gardens’ gates swarmed with Kolkata policemen, and military personnel and vehicles were also seen in abundance.

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