Of possible scorelines in the Test series, a 2-0 victory to Sri Lanka seemed the least likely of all, and now having sprung the first surprise of the tour, Sri Lanka will feel more capable of effecting another.
Yet, there does seem to be a limit to the confidence Sri Lanka can carry into the ODIs. For starters, the big performers from the Test series are not in the ODI squad – Dimuth Karunaratne, Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera all having flown home. Dinesh Chandimal, the second-highest run-scorer of the Test series, has been named in the ODI squad, but is not guaranteed a place in the XI. In addition, ODIs have been Sri Lanka’s weakest format in 2017. Apart from that outstanding chase against India in the Champions Trophy, there has been little for the team to crow about. Twice this year, have they been whitewashed 0-5 in ODIs – first in South Africa, then at home by India.
Pakistan, of course, won the Champions Trophy but as a team, they had also lived completely up to stereotype in the tournament. That it’s clich d to call Pakistan mercurial is a bit of a universal knowledge. We all agree it is lazy to describe them as “hot and cold”. Yet there they were in England, practically tripping over their own shoelaces in the first match against India, then swooping around The Oval like pan-galactic superhumans in the final.
Sri Lanka have little chance against the Pakistan that won the tournament. However, they will fancy themselves against the Pakistan that got hammered by India in the sides’ tournament opener. As it happened, these two sides actually met each other midway through the Champions Trophy, and were about evenly matched. Perhaps, as in the Tests – notwithstanding the results – they will be again.
Sri Lanka LLLLL (completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Incredibly, Pakistan required Sarfraz Ahmed to bat only twice during the Champions Trophy. One of those innings came against Sri Lanka, where thanks in part to Thisara Perera (who dropped the kind of catch a large fungus would have caught), Sarfraz hit 61 not out and saw Pakistan safely through to the semi-final, after the middle order had collapsed. Presently, having experienced a low in his captaincy, to go with the Champions Trophy’s extreme high, Sarfraz is tasked with inspiring a team missing two good players in Azhar Ali and Mohammad Amir. He must remain on top of his own batting, and wicketkeeping as well.
One of Sri Lanka’s Test performers who does make it to the ODI team is Niroshan Dickwella. He has batted with unsuspected maturity on tour so far and his keeping, too, has been excellent. Not only was he good to the spinners in consistently hot conditions, he also played the part of the over-appealing Sri Lanka wicketkeeper perfectly, often imitating Kumar Sangakkara, by throwing both arms in the air as he emptied his lungs. His ODI batting had been good earlier in the year before the scores tailed off slightly against India. Two half-centuries and an invaluable 40 not out in the Tests may spur him to reclaim limited-overs form, however.
With Amir injured, and Azhar rested – thanks to concerns over his knee – Pakistan cannot field the same XI that won at The Oval. Ahmed Shehzad will open the batting alongside Fakhar Zaman, and left-arm quick Rumman Raees will take Amir’s place in the XI.
Pakistan: 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Fakhar Zaman, 3 Babar Azam, 4 Shoaib Malik, 5 Mohammad Hafeez, 6 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt. and wk), 7 Imad Wasim, 8 Rumman Raees, 9 Shadab Khan, 10 Hasan Ali, 11 Junaid Khan
It is far less easy to predict a Sri Lanka XI, as they have been in substantial flux in this format. Thisara Perera, however, is likely to play after his T20 heroics for the World XI against Pakistan. Chandimal will probably take the injured Angelo Mathews’ place in the batting order. In the bowling department, Nuwan Pradeep is known to be carrying a niggle, which means Vishwa Fernando is most likely to play.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Niroshan Dickwella, (wk), 2 Upul Tharanga (capt.), 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Lahiru Thirimanne, 5 Dinesh Chandimal, 6 Milinda Siriwardana, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Suranga Lakmal, 9 Akila Dananjaya, 10 Vishwa Fernando, 11 Dushmantha Chameera
Pitch and conditions
The dew that is said to have hampered the Sri Lankan spinners on day four of the day-night Test may again be a concern. Scores of over 300 have been rare in Dubai, where the pitches often favour slow bowling.
Stats and trivia
Of the nine ODIs played under Sarfraz’s captaincy, Pakistan have won seven. The two losses came against India and West Indies.
Although he had been one of Sri Lanka’s most consistent batsmen up until the end of the Champions Trophy, Kusal Mendis has now gone eight completed ODI innings without a half-century.
Pakistan have won 28 and lost 16 ODIs against Sri Lanka in the UAE.
“We have a set batting order and the combination is doing well and that suits us. When I became captain in the West Indies, this was our combination but if there is a need then we can have a change.”
Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed
“The Test team had the hunger to perform well. The players who have come into the ODI side should have the same hunger to win. We spoke a lot about how they won.”
Sri Lanka captain Upul Tharanga