Hafeez inspires Pakistan victory over Sri Lanka
Mohammad Hafeez led Pakistan to a robust eight-wicket victory over Sri Lanka by smashing a third century of the series in the fourth one-day international, giving his side an unbeatable 3-1 lead in the series today.
Hafeez hit an unbeaten 113 off 119 balls with 12 fours and two sixes and equaled Zaheer Abbas' Pakistan record of three centuries in a bilateral ODI series as Pakistan raced to 226-2 in 41.1 overs.
Offspinner Saeed Ajmal (4-39) and fast bowler Umar Gul's 3-37 had earlier helped bowl out Sri Lanka for 225 in 48.5 overs despite debutant Ashan Priyanjan (74) and Kumar Sangakkara (51) hitting half centuries.
Hafeez has a chance to go one better than Abbas' record made against India in 1982 in the last match of the series on Friday.
"It's a great honor to equal the record of one of the great batsmen of Pakistan," Hafeez said.
"There was time where I was under pressure, but thanks to the supporters and the team for supporting me. It was something very special for the team to win this series and we want to finish the last match on a high."
Hafeez was under tremendous pressure after performing poorly against South Africa in the last six ODIs prior to the series against Sri Lanka. He appears to have turned his form around with a superb 122 and career-best unbeaten 140 in the first and third ODIs at Sharjah before another scintillating knock on Wednesday.
Sri Lanka needed early wickets to defend a below-par total, but Hafeez added 84 runs with Ahmed Shehzad (44) for the second wicket before getting Pakistan home with an unbeaten 111-run partnership with Sohaib Maqsood (46 not out).
"Hafeez is having an unforgettable series in the way he is playing and finishing games for us," Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq said. "We also need to keep our players going, but the main thing is that you really want to win every game, and we will try to do that."
Sri Lanka's premier bowler, Lasith Malinga, had a horrible run of form with the ball as the quick bowled too full in his three spells and could not get through the defenses of Hafeez. Malinga has taken only two wickets in four matches at a costly 235 runs.
"The Pakistani attack is very good ... we have to play for our pride in the next game," Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews said. "We can't let it go 4-1 so we have to play our best team."
Earlier, Priyanjan and Sangakkara resurrected the Sri Lanka innings briefly with an 89-run stand after Gul's triple blow had reduced them to 36-3.
Sangakkara was run out in the 29th over and Priyanjan, who hit 10 boundaries, was bowled by Junaid Khan in the 36th over, which sidetracked Sri Lanka from posting a healthy total.
Ajmal returned to take three of the last four wickets to bowl out Sri Lanka with more than an over to spare for the lowest total of the series.
Ajmal had Mathews (38) leg before wicket and clean bowled Sachithra Senanayake off successive deliveries, and then had Malinga caught behind as Sri Lanka lost its last four wickets for 15 runs.
Sri Lanka started off shakily after Mathews won the toss and elected to bat first for the first time in the series.
Gul, who took three wickets in his comeback match after a nine-month layoff after knee surgery in Pakistan's 113-run victory in the third ODI, was again up to the mark when he had Kusal Perera and Dinesh Chandimal caught by captain Misbah-ul-Haq.
In between those two blows, Tillkaratne Dilshan was clean bowled while offering no-stroke to Gul's sharp inswinger, which knocked back the top of the offstump.
But Priyanjan and Sangakkara put the innings back on track with a watchful stand as the debutant also hit Gul for three boundaries in one over that included two superb cover drives and a pull shot.
Priyanjan, who looked set to become the first Sri Lanka batsman to score a century in his debut ODI, threw away his wicket when he tried to run past short fine leg but was clean bowled by Khan's pacey delivery.
Mathews and another debutant, Kithuruwan Vithanage (27), added a brisk 40 off 43 balls before Ajmal ran through the lower order to restrict Sri Lanka.