Written by Maverick White for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
Pakistan vs Sri Lanka | Thursday 16 January | Sharjah | 08:00
A true battle across formats, the Sri Lankan tour of the UAE has resulted in a drawn T20 series, a tight ODI series in which Pakistan emerged eventual winners 3-2 and now the Test series, which comes down to the final match. Sri Lanka lead 1-0 after fighting back to draw in Abu Dhabi and winning by nine wickets in Dubai. Pakistan have widespread problems in the side and the momentum is not with them, but cricket’s homeless renegades are more than capable of staging an upset. They beat the world’s number one side more or less six weeks ago and will be loathe to slump to defeat against a side that, at the beginning of the series, had barely played competitively in the last year.
Sri Lanka 2/1
Despite their elder statesmen, in the form of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq, both notching up centuries in the opening Test to put Pakistan in a position of power, their side’s bowling came apart on a flat pitch, allowing Sri Lanka back into the match. The reality is that both sides would’ve been pleased with the draw. Hafeez looked back in form and the possible answer to Pakistan’s problem at number three, Ahmed Shehzad showed he could cut it at Test level on debut and as a result, the top and middle-order looked to finally be coming together. Alas, a rude awakening awaited the Pakistani batsmen in the second Test, being put in to bat on the first day. They eroded for 165, another example of collapse from a side that could pride themselves on the ability in a universe where spinelessness was a virtue. Their attack, lead by Saeed Ajmal, could not bowl them back into the match. The spinner looks slightly deflated and overworked, and has been played well by the Sri Lankans. With Pakistan missing Mohammed Irfan due to injury and Rahat Ali failing to make any impact, their attack doesn’t look like taking twenty wickets.
For a side that had last played Test cricket against a top-eight side almost a year ago, coming into the UAE without even a practice match under their belt in the longer format, Sri Lanka have exceeded expectations. A player who has done so more than any other is Angelo Mathews. Captain of the side at the age of 26 with hoards of leadership experience around him deemed better for the job, Mathews has not only coped, but has responded in the most emphatic way possible. He lead from the front and rallied his side to draw in the first Test, top scoring in both innings and notching up a career best 157 not out in the second innings. He sent Pakistan in to bat after winning the toss in the second Test, the only captain to do so in the last six Tests at the ground. His bowlers vindicated his decision and a timely century from stalwart Mahela Jayawardene led Sri Lanka to victory. After lying almost dormant in the Test arena, Sri Lanka will be overjoyed. Despite missing Thirimanne and Nuwan Kulasekara to injury, they will be confident of securing the series in Sharjah.
Sharjah hosted four Tests in 2002, Pakistan winning only half of them. The only other Test hosted here was against Sri Lanka in 2011, which played out to a draw. Sangakkara hit 144 in that Test and will be looking for a repeat. Younis Khan scored 122; the middle-order general loves to score runs against Sri Lanka. No much rain is yet predicted.
BEST: Top Pakistan 1st Innings Batsman, Younis Khan 3/1
Younis Khan has recorded six centuries against Sri Lanka in his career, the most against any nation he has played against. The fact that he has scored one of them in Sharjah and in the first innings, makes this bet even more appealing. He has been in good knick throughout the series and I expect Khan to anchor another capitulation.
VERDICT: Sri Lanka 2/1
Pakistan’s bowlers are likely to toil on what is usually a pretty flat track. The Sri Lankan bowlers have seemed to be able to extract just a little bit more out of the tracks on the tour so far and with Pakistan’s batting in shambles once again, bar Younis and Misbah, it seems unlikely they will be able to survive long enough. Back Sri Lanka for an extraordinary series win at a great price.
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