Pakistan entered the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy after a nail-biting three-wicket win over Sri Lanka in their virtual quarter-final clash in Cardiff on Monday. Their bowlers came to the party, bowling Sri Lanka out for 236 after putting them in to bat but their batsmen almost messed up the chase. Finally, Sarfraz Ahmed played a captain’s knock to take them home by three wickets.

Sri Lanka’s first innings was characterised by two periods of fluent run scoring followed with collapses. Despite Danushka Gunathilaka’s early wicket, Kusal Mendis and Niroshan Dickwella were comfortable in a breezy 56-run partnership which came to an end with a twin-wicket burst from Pakistan.

Then captain Angelo Mathews joined forces with Dickwella as Sri Lanka serenely moved to to 161/3 in 31.1 overs. But Pakistan’s four-pronged pace attack turned on their magic, taking four wickets in six runs to leave Sri Lanka tottering at 167/7. Again, Asela Gunaratne and Suranga Lakmal kept their heads above the water taking Sri Lanka to the end as they were finally bowled out for 236 in the last over. For Pakistan, Junaid Khan and Hasan Ali were the key performers, taking 3/40 and 3/40 respectively with their other two pacers, Mohammad Amir and Fahim Ashraf also chipping in with wickets of 2/53 and 2/37.

Quixotic. Or perhaps, peak Pakistan. That was the only way to describe their chase. When Fakhar Zaman and Azhar Ali put on an opening partnership of 50 at close to run-a-ball, there was only one way the chase could have gone. Zaman, looking in great touch, got to a fifty but then disaster struck. He holed out and then Pakistan seemed to remember they could not make the chase look that easy.

Babar Azam and Mohammad Hafeez played tame shots to be caught and Azhar Ali followed five runs later and, all of a sudden, Pakistan found themselves tottering at 110/4. It got worse as Shoaib Malik and Imad Wasim were also dismissed quickly and Pakistan were 137/6. After a counter-attack from debutant Fahim Ashraf, he also perished leaving Pakistan tottering at 162/7 and on the brink of elimination.

But then Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammad Amir brought some sanity back to proceedings. Helped by some generous Sri Lankan fielding (they dropped two catches, missed run-out opportunities and misfielded), the Pakistani captain showed composure to drag his team back into the match. He was helped by Amir playing a cool hand at the other end, blocking out Lasith Malinga’s endless supply of yorkers and taking singles at the end.

At the end, Sri Lanka just couldn’t break through and a joyous Pakistani crowd at Cardiff celebrated as Sarfraz hit the winning runs to ensure a thrilling win for Pakistan which put them in the semi-final where they will face England.

Brief scores:

Sri Lanka 236 all out in 49.2 overs (Niroshan Dickwella 73, Angelo Mathews 39; Junaid Khan 3/40, Hasan Ali 3/43) lost to Pakistan 237/7 in 44.5 overs (Sarfraz Ahmed 61 not out, Fakhar Zaman 50; Nuwan Pradeep 3/60, Suranga Lakmal 1/48) by three wickets