Pakistan’s ongoing tour of Sri Lanka has already been a memorable one. Misbah-ul-Haq’s men pulled off a stunning chase of 377 in the final Test last week to secure a 2-1 result, a first Test series win in the island nation since 2006. Building on that success, Pakistan also cruised to victory in the first game of the five-match One-Day International series in Dambulla on July 11.
With Sri Lanka entering the post Mahela Jayawardene-Kumar Sangakkara era, the batting is still finding its feet, and several of the top order men got starts, but didn’t go on to make a big score. In the first ODI, Dinesh Chandimal’s enterprising half-century took Sri Lanka to a competitive 255 for 8, but Pakistan got to the target with six wickets and nearly five overs in the bag.
Sri Lanka’s top order will be in focus again as the teams lock horns in the second ODI at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium on Wednesday (July 15). A lot will depend on Tillakaratne Dilshan, who stands as the only link between the past and the future in the 50-over format. Dilshan was impressive in patches during his 65-ball 38 in Dambulla, but Sri Lanka will need him to bat longer so that the relatively inexperienced middle order can bat around him.
Sri Lanka has also gone back to Upul Tharanga to shore up the middle order in Sangakkara and Jayawardene’s absence. Angelo Mathews, the captain, has been a solid presence for a while now, but with leadership responsibilities also to shoulder, he already has his hands full, and Sri Lanka will need more contributions if it is not to fall 0-2 behind.
Pakistan looks in pretty good space overall, and Azhar Ali, the new ODI skipper, will have been particularly heartened by the manner in which Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik, both former captains, came through in Dambulla. Hafeez returned ODI best figures of 4 for 41, and then came back to smash a 95-ball 103. Hafeez and Malik put on 75 for the fourth wicket and Malik saw the chase through to the end with an unbeaten 55, making sure that there were no late hiccups.
Pakistan’s bowling, with a fit-again Mohammad Irfan and Yasir Shah, the legspinner who had an extremely successful Test series, wears a rounded look. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, will want its bowlers to lift, given the straightforward manner in which Pakistan’s batsmen chased down a competitive total in the first ODI. If Lasith Malinga can find his length and venom, it will energise the unit significantly.
Pakistan will have pleasant memories of Pallekele, having mounted that record third-Test chase at the same venue, but it will also be mindful of Sri Lanka’s bounce-backability, even if the home side is a team in transition.
Sri Lanka: Kusal Perera, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Lahiru Thirimanne, Upul Tharanga, Angelo Mathews (capt), Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Thisara Perera, Milinda Siriwardana, Seekkuge Prasanna, Lasith Malinga, Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep, Ashan Priyanjan, Sachithra Senanayake, Sachith Pathirana.
Pakistan: Azhar Ali (capt), Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Rizwan, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Anwar Ali, Yasir Shah, Rahat Ali, Mohammad Irfan, Asad Shafiq, Mukhtar Ahmed, Bilal Asif, Immad Wasim, Ehsan Adil.