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Hyderabad hosts sub-continent rivals in its last World Cup game

Last updated on 09 Oct 2023 | 03:12 PM
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Hyderabad hosts sub-continent rivals in its last World Cup game

Pakistan would want their top three to return to form, and Sri Lankan bowlers would look to forget the South Africa game completely

Pakistan won their first game against the Netherlands comfortably at the end, despite some hiccups with their batting. 

Sri Lanka, meanwhile, faced a belligerent South Africa, leaked more than 400 runs and then lost their first game by more than 100 runs despite Kusal Mendis’ purplest of purple patches. 

The Lankans will face Pakistan tomorrow in Hyderabad after a quick turnaround from Delhi. They won’t have had much time to gather themselves prior to this big encounter against their sub-continent rivals. However, with as many as 10 venues being used in the World Cup, it’s better that they are getting used to quick turnarounds at the beginning of the tournament. 

Sri Lanka will definitely be bolstered by the return of Maheesh Theekshana, who didn't play in the first game due to medical reasons and is now fit and ready to feature in tomorrow’s game. 

It might still be the beginning, but Hyderabad will be hosting its last game of this ICC Cricket World Cup 2023 tomorrow, and both Sri Lanka and Pakistan would like to sort out the issues they encountered in their first game. 

Ground details and conditions 

The Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium at Hyderabad has played largely to its reputation. Expected to be a batting ground, it has seen totals in proximity of 300 being scored in the two matches it has hosted this World Cup. However, there’s much more to the surface than being a pristine batting paradise. 

In both games it has hosted so far, the pitch has slowed down at the end of the first innings. In both games, the Netherlands were bowling during this phase of the game, and their pacers (notably Bas de Leede and Paul van Meekeren) effectively utilized their cutters and the ball’s seam. In the game against New Zealand today, Aryan Dutt exhibited some beautiful loopy side spin and got the ball to turn significantly. 

Pakistani pacers Hasan Ali and Haris Rauf are experts in using their cutters, and Sri Lanka’s spinner Maheesh Theekshana and pacer Dilshan Madushanka can use their variations as well to trouble batters in this phase. 

The pitch quickens up a bit in the second innings with the lights coming on, but once the night begins, so does the batter’s troubles with the lack of pace in the pitch. That’s why it’s been tricky to decide whether to bat or bowl first on this track, and the Netherlands surprised many by choosing to bat second both times they played on this surface. 

Things to look out for 

Pakistan’s top-order’s form 

The batting form of the top 3 of Men In Green is down the drain at the moment. Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman had forgettable Asia Cups, averaging 30 and 16.5 with the bat, respectively. Skipper Babar Azam struggled in the Asia Cup as well, with his only notable innings coming against Nepal. 

Apart from the poor average, the top 3 have been scoring at a really slow rate (just 4.6 RPO) in the first 10 in an age where teams like Australia, India, and England have adopted aggressive batting strategies to begin their innings. Fakhar, Imam, and Babar’s power play strike rates this year are 78.13, 72.7 and 58.21, respectively. 

Sri Lanka has often used Theekshana in the power play, and the Pakistani top 3 have an SR of just 83.7 against spin - the worst among all sides. Especially against off-spin, the top 3 have scored only 319 runs in 447 balls. Considering that two of the three are lefties, Sri Lanka can employ both Dhananjaya de Silva and Theekshana in the power play. 

Even in the game against the Netherlands, Pakistan had lost their top 3 wickets for just 38 runs. If not for Mohammad Rizwan and Saud Shakeel, they would have struggled to put up a decent total. Rizwan, especially, was a delight to watch as the improvement in his off-side hitting has expanded his range and has made him a key batter for Pakistan going into this contest and the World Cup. 

Also, read - Analyzing every World Cup side’s top-order

Hence, to exert pressure on the opposition from the word go on a pitch where run-scoring becomes difficult as the match goes on, the Pakistani top three need to come good, but alas, the signs are not looking good for them. 

Sri Lanka’s spin prowess and Pakistan’s lack of it 

Sri Lanka will be without Wanindu Hasaranga this World Cup, but the Lankan team shouldn’t miss him much as their spinners have the best average (25.8) and SR (31.4) since 2022. 

With Theekshana returning, their spin bowling attack is strengthened as the spinner has taken 40 wickets at an economy of just 4.5 since 2022, and he bowls in all phases of the match for his team. Even in the death overs, Theekshana leaks runs at only 5.7 RPO. 

Young Dunith Wellalage was under the pump on a flat track in Delhi, but the surface in Hyderabad, with its natural variation, might suit his style of bowling as he bowls wicket to wicket and looks to deceive batters with his flight and dip. 

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s story of spin is a tragic tale with no happy ending in sight. 

Their spinners have the second-worst average (39.2) and third-worst ball/wicket (42.6) since 2022, and at the moment, they are not offering any major support to their pacers in the middle over. Their lack of success is one of the major reasons overs 11-40 have been a cause of concern for Pakistani bowling. 

Shadab Khan, their main spinner, has the third-worst average (40.5) and fourth-worst SR (44.7) amongst all spinners who have bowled at least 150 overs since 2021. Even against the Netherlands in Pakistan’s first game, Shadab was the most expensive bowler for his team. 

Also, read this article where we dissect the spin unit of all the ten teams participating in the 2023 showpiece event 

With Sadeera Samarawickrama and Charith Asalanka in decent form along with Kusal Mendis, Sri Lanka’s middle-order batters would love to take a heavy toll from Pakistan’s bowling in the middle overs.

Tactical Insights 

Kusal Mendis is a leg spin destroyer. He averages 158 and has an SR of 117 against wrist spinners since the start of 2022. Pakistan should keep Shadab away from him for their own good and try and bowl Nawaz from one end to him, as he only strikes at 64.8 against left-arm spin despite averaging 65.5. 

From the other end, they should bowl Shaheen Shah Afridi or Haris Rauf to him as he, along with the top order of Sri Lanka, is susceptible to high pace. Just like the damage that Siraj did in the Asia Cup final, a Pakistani pace attack that includes Afridi, Rauf, and Hasan Ali, can seriously damage Sri Lanka’s chances to win this game by blowing their top order away. 

Probable XI 

Pakistan start favourites in this game despite their top 3 and spin woes and would again hope that their pacers somehow do the trick for them - just like they have done a gazillion times in the past, and exploit Sri Lanka’s weakness against high-quality pace. They should play the same XI in this game that they played against Netherlands.

Pakistan probable XI - Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam (c), Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Saud Shakeel, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Nawaz, Shadab Khan, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi, Haris Rauf

Sri Lanka will have to drop a pacer to fit Theekshana in. Kasun Rajitha seems to be the most likely candidate who’ll have to sit out from their first XI, considering the variety offered by Pathirana and Madushanka. 

Sri Lanka probable XI - Pathum Nissanka, Kusal Perera, Kusal Mendis (wk), Sadeera Samarawickrama, Charith Asalanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Dasun Shanaka (c), Dunith Wellalage, Maheesh Theekshana, Matheesha Pathirana, Dilshan Madushanka

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