What was supposed to be the first One-Day International (ODI) in Pakistan after a span of four years was unfortunately washed out on Friday. This was also set to be Karachi’s first ODI in 10 years, but the wait goes on, just for a couple of days more perhaps, if the rain Gods relent.
Pakistan have been deprived of regular international cricket ever since the cowardly act of terrorism against the Sri Lankan team in 2009. Even now, many of the regular Sri Lankan players including Angelo Mathews, Lasith Malinga and others have backed out of the tour due to security reasons, leaving a second string team to do the business in Pakistan.
However, the fact that an international team has toured Pakistan is a good start for the nation and this tour will be a litmus test for them, and depending on its success we might see other international teams tour the troubled nation regularly.
Coming to the match, there is a yawning gap when it comes to experience in ODIs among Sri Lankan players. Their skipper Lahiru Thirimanne is vastly experienced having played 125 games, and the entire team has a combined experience of 324 matches, with fast bowler Nuwan Pradeep second in the list with 40 ODIs. Pakistan, on the other hand, have a much more settled unit yet are inconsistent like they showed in the 2019 World Cup.
The worry for Pakistan is the fact that their skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed does not have a fixed batting number and, as a result, has played between positions four to nine in his last 20 innings. Pakistan could benefit from giving him a fixed position, which could help the skipper be a lot more consistent. With an average of 45.57 and strike-rate of 93.67 at No. 5, that seems to the most apt position for Sarfaraz.
While the likes of Babar Azam, Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman have been some of the most consistent performers over the last couple of years or so, Pakistan have found a rejuvenated Haris Sohail, who played a few blistering innings in the World Cup. In fact, since January 2018, Imam is the only Pakistan player who averages more than him, among players who have faced at least 500 deliveries.
With Sohail in the middle-order, Pakistan are even more of a formidable unit. With Babar at three, Sohail can easily fit in at four, with Sarfaraz to follow at five and not to forget, Imam and Fakhar opening the innings – it surely makes a strong batting line-up.
As far as the bowling is concerned, the fast bowling duo of Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Amir, who shared 28 wickets between them in the World Cup, along with spinners Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan will be crucial in restricting the visitors. As far as Sri Lanka are concerned, they will be quietly confident as they are the most successful visiting side in Pakistan.
But given that this an inexperienced side, with an inexperienced captain, this will be a huge task for Sri Lanka to overcome Pakistan. However, in the absence of some of the big guns, it is an opportunity for some of the lesser experienced players to make a mark.
Going by recent results, Sri Lanka have managed to beat Pakistan just twice from their previous 10 meetings. In fact, Pakistan have won the previous six matches against Sri Lanka, dating back to the 2017 Champions Trophy.
It will be a good opportunity for someone like Avishka Fernando to continue his good run of form from the World Cup. He was perhaps the find of the tournament as far as Sri Lanka are concerned and his side will hope that the abundance of talent the 21-year-old possesses does not go to waste.
Having such attacking batsmen at the top has helped Sri Lanka get off to brisk starts. In fact since 2018, only England have a higher run-rate in the first Powerplay, while Pakistan are at the opposite end of the table with one of the worst run-rates in opening 10 overs. Their openers Imam and Fakhar have been scoring lot of runs, but they have failed to do so at a quick pace.
One-day cricket in the recent past has become a phenomenon where batsmen look to save wickets in the initial stage, gradually upping the ante in the middle-overs and with wickets in hand, go berserk at the death. Pakistan too are perhaps looking to go this way, but they will have to ensure that they do not dig themselves in a big hole initially, which then becomes hard to get out of.
However, Pakistan make up for it in the middle-overs and at the death much better than Sri Lanka do. In fact, Sri Lanka have the worst run-rate at the death (6.7), while only New Zealand (7.9) and England (8.2) have fared better than Pakistan in overs 41 to 50 (7.7) in ODIs since 2018.
Karachi has witnessed unprecedented rainfall in the last few days, but the weather is expected to be bright and sunny on Monday, which is great news for everyone concerned.
The result however in this match and this series is secondary, but what the world will take away from this match, this series and the entire tour is the fact that Pakistan is not a bad place to tour after all – which will be a huge win for the PCB.