(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Pakistan couldn't have bounced back from the Test disaster in a more emphatic style, recording a massive 83-run victory over Sri Lanka in the first match of the five-game ODI series at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Friday.
Upul Tharanga, Lanka's ODI captain, knew what his team was up against despite their Test team achieving a stunning 2-0 victory over Pakistan last Tuesday.
"Pakistan are always a very good white-ball team," Tharanga had remarked in the pre-match press conference on Thursday. "They are the Champions Trophy winners for a reason."
After a fine hundred by Babar Azam (103, 131 balls, 5 fours) and a magnificent half-century from the veteran Shoaib Malik (81, 61 balls, 5 fours and 2 sixes) helped Pakistan post a highly competitive total of 292 for six, their fast bowlers proved Tharanga right by destroying the Lankan top-order with their white-ball mastery.
Rumman Raees (3/49) and Hasan Ali (3/36) moved the ball at lively pace and even used the bouncer as a weapon to share four of the first five Lankan wickets as Tharanga's men were reduced to 56/5 before the end of the 16th over.
The writing was on the wall for a Lankan team that had suffered a humiliating 5-0 defeat at home to India last month.
Only a defiant half-century from Lahiru Thirimanna (53, 74 balls, 3 fours) and a lower-order resistance from Akila Dhananjaya (50 not out, 72 balls, 5 fours) and Jeffrey Vandersay (25, 47 balls) saved Sri Lanka (209/8) from an even bigger defeat.
Perhaps, the vibrant, flag-waving Lankan fans, who outnumbered the Pakistanis in the stadium, deserved better from their team.
They never stopped dancing to "Surangani", that famous Sri Lankan folk number, even as Lankan wickets kept falling.
If only their batsmen had shown the same spirit, we would have witnessed a high-scoring spectacle under the iconic Ring of Fire.
The result would hurt Tharanga because he had put Pakistan in on what was a pretty good batting surface.
But even Pakistan were in danger of losing their way in the middle overs of their own innings and it wasn't until Malik stepped onto the field that their fortunes changed.
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.
It's not easy to steal the limelight from a teammate who had hit a century in the same innings. The 22-year-old Azam 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 Test defeat.
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.
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, who got a 'life' on 42 when Dinesh Chandimal dropped him off Milinda Siriwardana, 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.