Lasith Malinga's brilliant five-wicket haul under pressure, and opener Lahiru Thirimanne's second ODI century, helped Sri Lanka script a thrilling 12-run victory over Pakistan in the opening match of the Asia Cup, at the Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium, in Fatullah, on Tuesday.
Chasing an imposing 297 for victory, Pakistan were on course till Malinga came up with a fiery spell and bowled out the 'Men in Green' for 284 in 48.5 overs.
The pacer first sent back danger man Shahid Afridi (4) and well-settled skipper Misbah-ul-Haq (73) in a span of three deliveries in his eighth over before returning to dismiss Saeed Ajmal (10) and Bilawal Bhatti (18) in his final one to finish with figures of five for 52.
Earlier, Thirimanne struck a fine 110-ball 102 to power Sri Lanka to a challenging 296 for six. He hit 11 fours and a six in his innings and starred in a 161-run stand with Kumar Sangakkara (67) for the second wicket to lay the foundation for a huge score.
Pakistan tried to stage a comeback in the middle overs as they picked up a few wickets, but skipper Angelo Matthews provided the late charge, cracking a 50-ball 55, to take Sri Lanka close to the 300-mark.
Pakistan failed to build partnerships at the top during their run-chase as they lost their first four wickets for 121 before Misbah and Umar Akmal (74) led a sensational fightback with attacking fifties.
Both added 121 runs for the fifth-wicket partnership to bring Pakistan back into the game. However, Malinga held his nerve and produced a match-winning spell to grab full points for his team.
Pakistan started their run chase on an attacking note, with opener Sharjeel Khan scoring quite a few boundaries before being dismissed by medium pacer Suranga Lakmal for 26.
Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez led the team's recovery with a 49-run stand for the second wicket but Sri Lanka fought back with quick strikes as Pakistan slipped to 83 for three inside 14 overs.
While Shehzad was cleaned up by left-arm spinner Chaturanga de Silva for 28, Hafeez was trapped in front of the wickets for 18 by Mathews.
Misbah and Sohaib Maqsood (17) steadied Pakistan with a cautious approach as they reached 121 for three before spinner Sachithra Senanayake had the latter caught at deep mid-wicket by Chaturanga de Silva.
With six wickets in hand and still requiring 175 runs to win, Pakistan looked in all sorts of trouble with their innings in complete disarray. But the pair of wicketkeeper-batsman Akmal and Misbah combined well and launched a counter offensive to regain the lost ground.
Both played aggressively and treated the loose deliveries with disdain to take Pakistan to 240 for 4, requiring 57 off 48 balls.
Lakmal returned to scalp the prized wicket of Akmal, who couldn't stop himself as he went for a massive drive on the up and only managed an outside edge to keeper Sangakkara.
Akmal's 72-ball stay at the crease was decorated with seven fours and three sixes.
Pakistan lost the plot after that and could not recover. They lost the last five wickets for just 43 runs.
Misbah also ran out of patience and was dismissed for 73 (84 balls, 4x4, 2x6) by Malinga.
Earlier, electing to bat, Sri Lanka made a watchful start before opener Kusal Perera (14) edged an Umar Gul delivery straight to Umar Akmal behind the stumps in the eighth over and were reduced to 28 for one.
However, Thirimanne continued his good run and notched his fifty off 56 balls in the 20th over, his first half-century since last July.
He and one-down batsman Sangakkara made sure Sri Lanka suffered no more damage as the two left-handed batsmen amassed runs at good pace and took Sri Lanka to the 100-mark in the 20th over.
The duo then changed gears, piling up 68 in the next 10 overs. Sangakkara, who is in red-hot form, brought up his 84th fifty in as many balls in the 27th over when he blasted Mohammad Hafeez for a boundary through the mid-wicket area.
In the 31st over, Thirimanne picked Hafeez for special treatment and sent him over deep midwicket to bring up the first six of the match and move into the 90s.
However, Pakistan came back into the match when Gul dismissed Sangakkara in the 32nd over, the batsman’s pull landing in the hands of Ahmed Shehzad.
Thirimanne brought up his hundred with a cover drive off Gul, but the Lankan opener doon departed as off-spinner Ajmal disturbed his off-stump in the 36th over.
Skipper Matthews, who came in to bat after Sangakkara's dismissal, plundered a four and six in consecutive balls off Ajmal in the 38th over before Sri Lanka suffered another blow in the next over when
Afridi deceived Mahela Jayawardene and induced a thick edge from his bat which disturbed the off-stump.
Afridi then dismissed Thisara Perera in the 43rd over, the spinner having him caught at deep mid-wicket.
Sri Lanka slipped to 245 for five. Another mix-up in the middle and new batsman Chaturanga de Silva was also walking back to the hut.
Ajmal and Junaid bowled well at the death overs but Dinesh Chandimal and Matthews shared an unbeaten 45-run stand for the seventh wicket to ensure Sri Lanka got close to 300.
For Pakistan, Umar Gul (2-38) and Afridi (2-56) picked two wickets each, while Saeed Ajmal had figures of 1 for 50.
Image: Sri Lanka's Lahiru Thirimanne celebrates after scoring a century against Pakistan in the opening match of the Asia Cup in Fatullah.
Photograph: Andrew Biraj/Reuters