Homecoming of cricket in Pakistan. Security arrangements and senior Sri Lankan players pulling out. Result – a 2nd string Sri Lanka side visiting Pakistan for 3 ODIs and 3 T20Is. On Monday, however, the same 2nd string side did what no other team from the island nation had managed to do before: beating Pakistan in a T20I series!

Built on a rollicking 77 off 48 balls from Bhanuka Rajapaksa, who was just playing his 2nd game for Sri Lanka, the tourists posted a total of 182/6 in their 20 overs. In reply, Pakistan could only muster 147 in 19 overs as they fell to a 35-run defeat in the 2nd T20I of the 3-match series in Lahore. Having already won the 1st match of the series on Saturday, Sri Lanka have now secured an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series rendering the last game on Wednesday a dead rubber.

Just like the last match, Pakistan’s chase got off to the worst possible starts as openers Babar Azam (3) and Fakhar Zaman (6) were removed early by pacers Nuwan Pradeep and Kasun Rajitha. Fakhar’s dismissal was particularly curious as he bent on one knee to scoop a full-toss outside the off-stump from Rajitha but only ended up guiding it straight on to his stumps.

Sarfaraz Ahmed who walked in at the fall of Azam’s wicket showed some intent early by unleashing a flurry of boundaries including a straight six off Wanindu Hasaranga. But the wrist-spinner returned in his very next over to cause absolute mayhem amongst the Pakistan ranks.

Hasaranga claimed 3 wickets in 4 balls – Ahmed Shehzad (bowled for 13), Umar Akmal (LBW for 0) and Sarfaraz Ahmed (bowled for 26) – to break the break of Pakistan’s batting. It looked done and dusted for Pakistan from here but new batsmen Asif Ali and Imad Wasim showed why there is only one team like Pakistan and that’s Pakistan itself.

From 52/5 after 8 overs, the duo forged a 75-run partnership off 47 balls to bring cheers back around the Gaddafi Stadium cauldron. At one stage, Asif and Imad’s partnership was in with a chance to produce a come-from-behind victory but it wasn’t to be.

Under pressure of the consistently rising required-run-rate, Imad (47) was trapped in front by Isuru Udana to dent Pakistan’s hopes. But Asif continued to strike boundaries while wickets kept falling from the other end. However, the task proved too much for him in the end as Asif (29) was bowled by Pradeep in the penultimate over to all but end Pakistan’s hopes.

Earlier, the 27-year-old Rajapaksa hit 6 sixes and 4 fours to put Sri Lanka on the path of a big total after last match’s hero Danushka Gunathilaka departed early for 15 off the bowling of Imad. Soon afterwards, Avishka Fernando (8) was gone too – thanks to a direct hit from Shadab Khan.

This brought Rajapaksa and Shehan Jayasuriya together at the crease and the duo forged a scintillating 94-run partnership off just 62 balls to take the game away from Pakistan. Rajapaksa was particularly great to watch as he trusted his great hand-eye coordination to time the ball beautifully between gaps while not shying away from nailing the towering sixes either.

The stand could only be broken by the run-out of Jayasuriya (34) by Asif Ali but Sri Lanka continued to pile on the runs with captain Dasun Shanaka playing a great little cameo of 27 off just 15 balls to push his team’s score above 180. Shanaka, at that stage, wouldn’t have realised that he would become the 1st Sri Lankan captain to win a T20I series vs Pakistan. Now everyone knows.

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