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Pakistan to face England in Champions Trophy semi-final following win over Sri Lanka

Pakistan booked a Champions Trophy semi-final clash against England on Wednesday after edging past Sri Lanka by three wickets in gripping fashion.

When they slumped from 92 for one to 137 for six in pursuit of 237 for victory, Pakistan looked down and out at Cardiff Wales Stadium.

But a return to the Welsh capital in under 48 hours’ time was secured thanks to the efforts of captain Sarfraz Ahmed and opening bowler Mohammad Amir.

They compiled an unbroken eighth-wicket partnership of 75, with Sarfraz hitting an unbeaten 61 and Amir undefeated on 28, to leave Sri Lanka crestfallen and reflecting ruefully on dropping Sarfraz twice in quick succession as the Pool B contest reached a thrilling conclusion.

Sri Lanka, despite a battling 73 by opener Niroshan Dickwella, were bowled out for what appeared an under-par total, with Junaid Khan and Hasan Ali each taking three wickets as headline acts of Pakistan’s pinpoint seam attack.

Requiring under five runs an over, Pakistan set about their task in clinical fashion as Fakhar Zaman and Azhar Ali delivered a 74-run opening partnership.

But such promise rapidly evaporated as Pakistan lost wickets cheaply, not helping themselves through some poor shot choices.

Sri Lanka did not require a second invitation to go for the jugular, giving themselves sight of an unlikely win before it was taken away from them by an inspired captain’s innings, securing the win with 5.1 over to spare.

After being put in to bat, Sri Lanka’s openers made a confident start, initially easing along at almost six runs an over during a spell highlighted by Dickwella walking across his stumps and flicking an audacious scoop shot off Junaid Khan way over Pakistan wicketkeeper Sarfraz’s head which almost carried for six.

But Pakistan broke through in the sixth over when Danushka Gunathilaka tamely chipped Khan to mid-off, where Shoaib Malik took an easy catch as the opener departed for 13 and left his team 26 for one.

Pakistan’s hopes of making further early in-roads were dashed, though, as Dickwella and Kusal Mendis impressively went about their work, mixing raw attacking aggression with subtle shots on both sides of the wicket as they compiled a confident second-wicket partnership.

Pakistan needed a breakthrough and it arrived right on cue when Hasan Ali clean-bowled Mendis with a brilliant delivery that moved late to leave Sri Lanka on 82 for two.

Fahim Ashraf then marked his one-day international debut by dismissing Dinesh Chandimal for a second-ball duck when he dragged an attempted cover drive on to the stumps.

It left Sri Lanka with a rebuilding job entrusted to Dickwella and captain Angelo Mathews and they did it impressively, adding 78 for the fourth wicket in relatively trouble-free fashion.

But then the innings began to crumple.

Mathews became Amir’s first wicket of the tournament when he played on for 39 and then, with only one more run added, Dhananjaya de Silva edged the ball to Sarfraz and was out for one, before Sri Lanka’s rock Dickwella fell victim to a stunning catch by the Pakistan wicketkeeper.

Amir cajoled a thin inside edge from Dickwella, which meant Sarfraz changing direction before catching the ball low down with his left hand, and Dickwella’s resilient innings ended on 73.

Khan claimed his third wicket when Thisara Perera’s thick edge was snapped up by first slip Babar Azam.

Sri Lanka had lost four wickets for six runs in 25 balls, leaving them with a Herculean task to post a competitive score and keep alive any realistic semi-final hopes.

Asela Gunaratne and Suranga Lakmal took them past 200 with a 46-run partnership highlighted by Lakmal’s 34-ball 26.

Gunaratne holed out, caught just inside the mid-wicket boundary by Zaman off Hasan Ali, who had bowled Lakmal, for 27, before Pradeep gave Ashraf an easy caught and bowled as Sri Lanka’s innings ended two balls into the 50th over.

Any early hope of them pinning Pakistan’s reply on to the back foot were threatened by a 34-ball half-century from Zaman, but things began to change when Pakistan lost him, Mohammad Hafeez and Azhar Ali in quick succession, while adding just 18 runs.

And when Malik was caught behind for 11, then Imad Wasim departed to leave Pakistan 131 for six, Sri Lanka looked to have prised open the door to an unlikely victory, which gathered momentum as Ashraf was run out at the non-striker’s end for 15, leaving his team requiring another 75 runs with just three wickets left.

But Ahmed and Amir came up trumps when it mattered, leaving Sri Lanka to reflect what might have been, particularly Perera, who dropped a sitter at mid-on off Sarfraz when Pakistan were seven wickets down and still 43 runs short.

Tune into talkSPORT on Wednesday to hear full commentary of the Champions Trophy semi-final between England and Pakistan. Click here for details of how to tune in on the radio, or stream it live online here.

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