MATCH REPORT: Pakistan v Sri Lanka
On a gloomy day at Leicester, the last group-stage match of the World Cup went right down to the wire, with Pakistan eventually bowled out for 206, just 16 runs short of their target.
Chasing 222, and with 22 runs needed from the last 5 overs, Pakistan’s Asmavia Iqbal fought tooth and nail to get her side over the line, but was eventually left stranded on 38* after number 11 Sadia Yousaf was bowled by Sri Lankan captain Inoka Ranaweera in the 47th over.
For Sri Lanka, the star was Dilani Manodara, who hit 84 - her best performance in international cricket - and finished as the day’s top scorer.
Pakistan had started their run chase at a rather sedate pace, hitting just 33 runs off the 10 over powerplay, including playing out two maidens.
They also lost early wickets, with Chandima Gunaratne (Player of the Match for her 4-41) removing both openers - Nahida Khan bowled trying to cut, and Ayesha Zafar getting a leading edge to Chamari Atapattu at cover.
But a thrilling onslaught by Nain Abidi and Iram Javed then ensued, with their 50 partnership for the fourth wicket (made from 56 balls) propelling Pakistan towards their target.
The pressure was clearly telling on Sri Lanka who, with their keeper Manodara off the field and Prasadani Weerakkody acting as stand-in, conceded runs all around the wicket - Weerakkody at one point leaking four byes as the ball trickled between her legs to the boundary.
A clatter of wickets seemed to turn things in Sri Lanka’s favour, but even when all seemed lost at 8 down with 46 runs still needed off the last 10 overs, Pakistan’s lower order made a valiant effort to chase the target down - a cameo from Diana Baig (12), who had previously averaged just 0.2 in international cricket, providing great support for Iqbal.
Sri Lanka, though, ultimately held their nerve to ensure the Pakistani efforts were in vain.
Earlier, with the toss delayed due to rain, play had not got underway until 11.20am, though no overs were lost.
Sri Lanka - having won the toss and chosen to bat - then announced their odd decision to drop Chamari Polgampala, who had top scored for them in their last game against South Africa.
Nipuni Hansika, opening in her place, did not justify the selectors’ faith in her, bowled by Baig for 1 in the second over of the day. Baig - who ended her initial 5-over spell with figures of 2-22 - then struck again in her very next over, having Hasini Perera caught behind.
Ominously for Pakistan, Atapattu looked in brilliant touch early on, stroking two fours off the first 7 balls she faced. But like her teammates she found Baig difficult to get away, and was soon left counting her lucky stars as a plumb LBW decision against the bowler was turned down when she was on just 9*.
She went on to share a 46-run partnership with Shashikala Siriwardene, but ultimately could not push on, chipping Kainat Imtiaz - brought back into the Pakistan XI in place of Nashra Sandhu - straight to Sana Mir at midwicket when on 27. By the time Sri Lanka’s 100 went up on the board in the 27th over they were already 5 wickets down.
In place of Atapattu, though, Sri Lanka found a different hero today in the form of Manodara, whose 84 from 111 balls carried the weight of their batting.
Initially batting with a total lack of urgency, Manodara gradually found some fluency: while it took her 83 balls to reach 50 runs, her next 34 came off just 28 deliveries. Alongside Eshani Kaushalya (28), and aided by several fluffed run-out chances by the Pakistanis, her effort ensured a strong finish to the Sri Lankan innings.
Baig finally claimed Manodara’s wicket in the 48th over, as she edged to Sidra Nawaz behind the stumps, missing out on her century by a mere 16 runs. As it turned out, though, she had already done enough to ensure Sri Lanka could go on and claim their first win of this World Cup.