(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Just when it seemed Pakistan were losing their way in the middle overs after being sent in by Sri Lanka in the first match of the five-game ODI series, Shoaib Malik stepped onto the field and changed their fortunes with some inspired stroke-play.
Bringing loud cheers from Pakistani fans and a big smile from his adoring wife (Sania Mirza) at the VIP Box, Malik gave a new lease of life to Pakistan's innings as his 61-ball 81 helped Sarfraz Ahmed's team post a highly competitive total of 292/6 at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Friday.
It's not easy to steal the limelight from a teammate who had hit a century in the same innings. The 22-year-old Babar Azam (103, 131 balls, 5 fours) scored what was the sixth century of his fledgling ODI career and it was the perfect response to his critics after his failure with the bat in Pakistan's 2-0 defeat to Sri Lanka in the Test series.
But without the big shots and clever running between the wickets from the 35-year-old Malik, Pakistan would not have been in a position to take their total close to the 300-mark against a disciplined Lankan bowling attack.
They didn't have the greatest of starts as Ahmed Shehzad (0, 12 balls) once again failed to make the most of the chance he was offered by the Pakistani think-tank.
Fakhar Zaman (43, 45 balls, 4 fours, 1 six), scorer of that magical hundred in Pakistan's Champions Trophy final win over India, was impressive once again. But he was guilty of throwing away a wonderful chance to get a big hundred on what was a pretty good surface to bat.
Mohammad Hafeez (32, 38 balls, 5 fours) also looked set to put Pakistan in the driving seat only to lose his wicket to a mistimed pull off left-arm spinner Jeffrey Vandersay.
With Pakistan looking for some inspiration at 128/3 in 28 overs, Malik (81, 61 balls, 5 fours, 2 sixes) walked in to show he has lost none of his touch and power despite his advancing years. His 139 runs partnership for the fourth wicket with Azam came off just 108 balls.
Azam, on the other hand, kept on waiting for the loose balls and brought up his hundred off 128 balls. When the time came for him to change gears, he offered a simple catch to Kusal Mendis at mid-wicket off Suranga Lakmal.
But an unbroken 23-run partnership off 10 balls by Imad Wasim (10, five balls, 1 six) and Hasan Ali (11, five balls, 2 fours) made sure Malik's wonderful efforts didn't go in vain.