Pakistan vs Sri Lanka | Friday 20 December | Dubai | 13:00
For two teams who often struggle for top order runs, the result of the first ODI in Sharjah would been welcomed by both, despite Sri Lanka falling short of Pakistan’s total. Cricket’s nomads, who call the UAE home for the time being, posted 300+ on a typically innocuous track and would’ve won by a much larger margin, had Sri Lanka’s tail not wagged at the death. It marks the beginning of an arduous tour for the visitors, the T20s out of the way and the ODIs in full swing. The test series is likely to be fierce, but with both sides being more competent in the shorter formats, this five-match series is going down to the wire.
Sri Lanka 9/10
Captain Misbah-ul-Haq, in the lead up to the series, almost begged his top order to produce something of substance, but few would have expected such an emphatic response. Shehzad continues to struggle, but the introduction of Sharjeel Khan has proven to be something of a revelation. His fluid 61 from as many balls set the tone for the innings, while the return to form of Mohammad Hafeez, coupled with the grace of Sohaib Maqsood, produced a 140-run stand that almost took the game away from the Sri Lankans. Hafeez was particularly delightful, his 122 from 129 deliveries was peppered with plenty of ones and twos, rotating the strike at will. The Pakistani attack did well to limit Sri Lanka to 221/7 in the 42nd over on a track that offered little for the bowlers, but let the game get away from them in the end with a combination of poor bowling at fielding. This will need to improve lest they lose games from winning positions.
Although they go one-down in the series, Sri Lanka will take heart from their performance in Sharjah. They would surely not have conceded so many had they included Nuwan Kulasekara instead of the expensive Suranga Lakmal, and I expect this to be rectified come the second ODI. Malinga’s opening spell was threatening, finding uncharacteristic away swing. If they tighten up this aspect of their game, their batting lineup is more than capable of chasing and setting high targets. Kusal Perera played relatively freely while Dilshan struggled, but the latter is capable of much more. Kumar Sangakkara will need to come to the fore, and Sri Lanka require the likes of Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Mathews to kick on with their starts. Sri Lanka are the type of side who never go down without a fight, and that quality will hold them in good stead for this series.
Both of the T20s were played in Dubai, the first a middling affair and the second a run-fest, with Sri Lanka posting 211/3. This leads me to believe that there will be runs to be had here on Friday. Expect another contest with 300+ totals. No rain is forecast.
BEST: Top Sri Lankan Batsman, Kusal Perera (price to be released)
The Sri Lankan opener has looked in fine form in his last two outings, the T20 innings in particular rather brutal. Without the likes of Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka’s batting lineup appeared to be frail, until Perera began to show his class. I expect him to carry on the same vein.
VERDICT: Sri Lanka 9/10
I expect Nuwan Kulasekara to return to the side and make a huge difference with a miserly opening spell. The batsmen were devastating in Dubai during the T20 and should have no problem dispatching a Pakistan attack that began to unravel towards the end of the Sri Lanka’s innings on Wednesday. Back Sri Lanka to level the series.
Disagree with Maverick? Let us hear your thoughts. Please comment below.