Colombo, Feb 26: Pakistan held their nerves to pull off a stunning 11-run victory over title aspirants Sri Lanka in a nail-biting group A World Cup league match here today.
The Pakistani first posted a competitive 277 for seven, relying on half centuries by Misbah-ul-Haq (unbeaten 83) and Younis Khan (72) and then restricted Sri Lanka to 266 for nine to virtually assure themselves a quarter-final berth.
Pakistan skipper Shahid Afridi sparkled with the ball as he took four wickets and became only the third bowler from his country to take 300 or more ODI wickets.
The Pakistanis, though, were found wanting in the ground fielding as they missed stumping chances, dropped catches and missed run outs.
Chamara Silva (57) played a gritty knock and shared a 73-run stand for the fifth-wicket with his skipper Sangakkara (49) in Lanka's fight but that only reduced the defeat margin.
Afridi (4/34) bowled extremely well in the middle overs and yet again turned the tide in his side's favour as he took crucial wickets of Tillakaratne Dilshan (41), Sangakkara (49) Thilan Samaraweera (1) and Angelo Mathews (18).
Paceman Shoaib Akhtar (2/42) contributed in the win by scalping two Lankan batsmen.
Sri Lanka did not make a flying start with Pakistan fast bowlers Akhtar and Abdul Razzak being brilliant with the new ball as they hardly gave scoring opportunities.
But the hosts openers -- Dilshan and Upul Tharanga (33) -- did well to bat together for about 15 overs, raising 76 runs to lay a good foundation for the chase.
Sri Lanka though let go the advantage by losing well-set Tharanga, who drove one off Mohammed Hafeez uppishly and Afridi took a smart low catch at mid-off.
Afridi gave Sri Lanka the second shock when he bowled dangerous Dilshan and when the Pakistan skipper called Akhtar for his second spell, the speedster responded by knocking off the middle stump of Mahela Jayawardene (2).
The home fans and the host dressing room had hardly recovered from the blow that Afridi combined with stumper Kamran Akmal to script the fall of Samaraweera (1).
Afridi bowled a flighted one, beat Samaraweera's forward-defence and Akmal took the bails off in a flash.
Sangakkara along with Silva stopped the freefall of wickets but both the batsmen were lucky as Pakistan fielders made a mess of the chances offered by the Lankan players.
The Lankan skipper survived two stumping chances off spinner Abdur Rehman, with Kamran being the villain.
Rehman himself proved a disaster as a fielder by dropping Silva off Umar Gul in the 36th over in what was a simple chance on mis-timed pull.
Sangakkara finally ran out of luck as an ambitious shot off Afridi landed in the hands of Ahmed Shezad at long-on, giving the Pakistan skipper his 300th One-day wicket.
Mathews and Silva took the hosts near the target and it all boiled to the last over in which the Sri Lanka required 18 runs. But Umar Gul ensured Pakistan come out triumphant.
Earlier, Younis and Misbah did the bulk of scoring for Pakistan by sharing 108 runs for the fourth wicket even as opener Mohammed Hafeez and wicket-keeper Kamran contributed 32 and 39 runs respectively.
Pakistan could have reached a better total but they could manage just 68 runs in the last 10 overs despite having seven wickets in hand after the 40th over.
Afridi contributed 16 from 12 balls and was out in the penultimate over.
Pakistan were off to a good start, scoring 65 in the first 10 overs though they lost the wicket of inexperienced opener Ahmed Shehzad (13).
Lankan pacemen Nuwan Kulasekara and Thisara Perera were expensive in their first spells though the latter removed Shehzad with a delivery which moved away after pitching outside off stump for Kumar Sangakkara to take the edge.
Hafeez then creamed Kulasekara for a six and a four in the next over before one-down Kamran Akmal hit the same bowler for two fours in the same over.
Just as Pakistan were looking to take control of their innings, they lost their second wicket with Hafeez being run out following a horrible mix-up in the 14th over.
Hafeez swept a Muttiah Muralitharan delivery to short fine leg and Kamran ran all the way to the other end without seeing that his partner was unmoved from his crease.
Sangakkara's throw went past Muralitharan who was standing at the non-striker's end and Hafeez, who did not move an inch earlier, thought of running for a fleeting moment but returned back to his crease. Muralitharan dislodged the bail and it was Hafeez who was ruled run out by the umpires.
Run-rate slowed down after the departure of two openers. Pakistan lost another wicket in the 21st over. Kamran unnecessarily charged down the track and missed a Rangana Herath delivery for Sangakkara to remove the bails in a flash. Pakistan were 105 for three then.
The experienced duo of Younis and Misbah, however, ensured that no further wickets and also keept the scoreboard ticking. They mostly dealt in singles by rotating the strike, denying the likes of Muralitharan any success.
Younis, who was the more aggressive of the two, reached his fifty, his second in World Cup and 41st overall in ODIs, when he took a single spinner Herath in the 35th over.
The former captain, however, fell in the 41st over after taking Pakistan to a strong position while trying to sweep a Herath delivery. The top-edge looped up in the air for Mahela Jayawardene to take a simple catch at short fine leg.
Younis' 72 came from 76 balls and there were just four boundaries in it. He shared 108 runs from 20.3 overs with Misbah for the fourth wicket.
Misbah brought up his fifty, his second in World Cup and 13th overall in ODIs, in the 41st over with a double from Herath just before his partner Younis was out.
Misbah, who hit just six boundaries in his 91-ball unbeaten innings, had also scored a half century in Pakistan's 205-run victory over Kenya in their opening match. PTI