CARDIFF, June 13: When Sarfraz Ahmed came to the crease at Sophia Gardens on Monday, his Pakistan team was four down but cruising towards the Champions Trophy semifinals at Sri Lanka's expense.
Then, within five overs, he lost Shoaib Malik for 11, Imad Wasim for 4, and Fahim Ashraf, who didn't ground his bat and was needlessly run out for 15.
Suddenly, the chase was no longer a cruise. It was in rough seas and Ahmed couldn't afford to be seasick.
Somehow, he survived two dropped catches and marshalled fast bowler Mohammad Amir as they knocked off the last 75 runs in 15 overs to propel Pakistan into the semifinals for the first time since 2009.
Pakistan won by a closer-than-it-looks three wickets in dramatic fashion, and will play England on Wednesday on the same ground.
Defending champion India will face Bangladesh in the other semifinal on Thursday at Edgbaston. The final is on Sunday.
"I can't believe it," Ahmed said. "Thanks to Amir, he played really well. I just told him to play his game and not to worry about the score. That if we took it to the 40th over we would win. Dropped catches are part of the game. Allah helped us."
Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews couldn't believe they blew it.
"I thought we were pathetic once again," Mathews said. "If we had held those catches, it would have been a different story, especially at very crucial times — first over, and towards the end, where we let go of Sarfraz was very crucial."
When Amir joined Ahmed, Pakistan's captain for two months and last recognized batsman knew he couldn't afford to see another teammate. Amir, in the 18 months since his return from the spot-fixing ban, had only one score higher than 17.
And next in line were bowlers Hasan Ali, who averaged 7 with the bat, and Junaid Khan, who averaged 4.
Ahmed held his nerve. At 162-7 after 30 overs, after a brilliant start by openers Fakhar Zaman (50) and Azhar Ali (34 after being dropped on 0), Pakistan needed 75 runs from 20 overs.
Ahmed, who had already survived two near run-outs, received more let-offs when he was dropped on 38 by Thisara Perera, who had the ball at chest height, and on 40 by Seekkuge Prasanna, who couldn't hold on to a diving catch.
Thanks to misfields and overthrows, Ahmed and Amir wobbled to the end, where Ahmed finished off the match by hitting Lasith Malinga to the third man boundary for the winning runs, then ran to Amir for a huge embrace.
Ahmed finished 61 not out off 79 balls, including five boundaries.
Amir was 28 not out off 43, and one boundary.
Not even being fined afterwards for a slow over-rate would have dented Pakistan's celebrations. Pakistan was one over short of its target with time allowances taken into consideration. Ahmed pleaded guilty to the offence and was fined 20 percent of his match fee as captain and the rest of the team 10 percent.
Pakistan made the Sri Lankans bat first, and dismissed them for 236 in 49.2 overs.
Pakistan scored 237-7 in 44.5 overs.
Sri Lanka started solidly before slumping from 161-3 to 167-7 after 35 overs, unable to cope with left-arm quicks Junaid Khan and Amir. Khan ended his 10 overs with 3-40, including two wicket maidens, and Amir took 2-53. Medium-pacer Hasan Ali took 3-43.
Mathews (39 in 54 balls) and top-scorer Niroshan Dickwella (73 in 86) were among the three wickets to fall in 12 balls.
Sri Lanka's tail offered some valuable resistance — not quite enough as it turned out — on a flat pitch showing some movement.
Pakistan debuted Ashraf for spinner Shadab Khan, and the extra seamer took 2-37 in 6.2 overs. This was the first time in four years that four Pakistan bowlers took two-plus wickets in a match. In the end, their bats were needed, too.