Was the Test series a black swan event, not amenable to rationalisation after the fact? It certainly seems so after the proceedings of the first ODI between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Dubai, which firmly saw the cricket return to the realms of predictability. Essentially, Pakistan are pretty bloody good in the UAE, and Sri Lanka, at the moment, are poor.
Within the space of one evening’s cricket, analysis seems to have reverted to favouring Pakistan heavily. Sri Lanka’s mystery spinners now simply look unreliable, their hard-working fast bowlers too impotent. In this format, at least, we claim, Sri Lanka have been at their worst, winning just four ODIs all year and now having lost eight on the trot. The game in Dubai showed why, since it was representative of their performance this year: the bowlers unable to take wickets in the middle overs, and the batsmen incapable of mounting a serious chase.
They went into the first game fielding just two specialist fast bowlers. With allrounder Thisara Perera’s current bowling form, that is a concern. He went for 68 in his eight overs, and was extremely expensive in last month’s series between the World XI and Pakistan in Lahore, conceding 111 runs in 11 overs across three games. He isn’t easy to drop, however, due to his explosiveness with the bat, but his reliability as an all-round option at the moment is wearing thin.
Pakistan, by no means a perfect ODI side, look significantly stronger than their opponents at the moment. The batsmen are in better form, with old hands and young guns working well together, highlighted by Friday’s match-winning partnership between Shoaib Malik and Babar Azam. Ahmed Shehzad will be desperate for runs, though, the opener’s duck not having gone unnoticed, not least because it came off 12 balls.
That Mohammad Amir’s absence was not felt in the slightest attests to the depth of Pakistan’s fast bowling. Rumman Raees expertly took his place, managing to find swing with the new ball, and making the early inroads that snuffed out Sri Lanka’s hopes of a competitive chase. Junaid Khan bowled well despite going wicketless, while Hasan Ali’s star continues to rise.
This, then, is the backdrop to the second ODI in Abu Dhabi, with Pakistan looking fairly settled as Sri Lanka wrestle with selection dilemmas and form concerns. However, predicting outcomes between these sides is as close as it comes to a fool’s errand. Pakistan are globally famous for their inconsistency while Sri Lanka’s undoubted ability – particularly with the ball – means anyone surprised by a Sri Lankan win probably hasn’t watched these sides take each other on too often.
Sri Lanka LLLLL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Aside from impressing on the domestic and T20 franchise circuit, Rumman Raees‘ temperament has helped him stand out on the international stage. His attitude – frankly, his cockiness – gets in the way of his nerves, meaning no occasion or opposition player seems to hold any fear for him. He first got his chance in the semi-final of the Champions Trophy against England in June, bowling brilliantly both up front and at the death, coming away with 2 for 44. Now, as then, he filled in for Mohammad Amir, and did not let Pakistan feel the pinch of his absence. This is an ideal series for him to show he can be more than just somebody’s replacement, and make a serious case of nailing down that coveted starting XI slot.
Kusal Mendis is highly regarded among most serious followers of Sri Lankan cricket, but his form since the start of the ill-fated series against India hasn’t lived up to his ability. Other than a century during the second Test in Colombo, he has failed to reach a single fifty, his highest score being 36 in over two months. Even during the Test series against Pakistan that Sri Lanka swept, Mendis struggled for runs, managing only 58 in all at an average of 14.50. With Sri Lanka struggling, a player of his talent is badly needed to step up and lead the way. Mendis’ ability means that cannot be ruled out.
Sarfraz announced that Pakistan will be unchanged for the second ODI, choosing to stick with the XI that delivered the first game’s decisive win.
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
As with most struggling sides, Sri Lanka’s line-up is harder to ascertain, with several options surely being mooted in the hope that one particular combination solves the jigsaw puzzle that ODI cricket has proven to be for them in 2017. It would not be surprising to see Dusmantha Chameera or left-arm pacer Vishwa Fernando get a game, perhaps in place of Jeffrey Vandersay as Sri Lanka look for more fast-bowling options.
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/Dushmantha Chameera/Jeffrey Vandersay, 11 Dushmantha Chameera
Pitch and conditions
Dew could be a factor once more, and on the slowish UAE surfaces, any score over 300 would certainly render the side batting first favourites. Rain – predictably – is not a concern.
Stats and trivia
Sri Lanka have won just one ODI this year against a team other than Zimbabwe or Bangladesh. That was during the Champions Trophy, where they chased down 322 to beat India by seven wickets.
After a poor Test series, Babar Azam stormed back to form with a hundred in the first ODI. The difference between his ODI and Test averages is particularly stark: 55.64 and 23.75 respectively.
Source: ESPN Crickinfo