The National Stadium in Karachi has played host to 46 One-Day International (ODI) matches. But when the Pakistan and Sri Lanka players walk out to take the field on Friday, it will be the first time in 10 years that the ground will be playing host to an ODI.
The last ODI at the stadium was between the same two sides and happened during the tour in 2009 when the Sri Lankan team bus was attacked in Lahore. Five Sri Lankan players were injured in the attack which saw six security personnel and two civilians killed. Since then, teams have largely refrained from touring Pakistan, with only 12 international matches played there in the last decade. And only three of those were ODIs, all during Zimbabwe’s tour in 2015.
The National Stadium is a ground where Pakistan have a famously celebrated Test record, having lost just twice in 41 matches. Their ODI performances at the venue haven’t been as dominating though, with 20 wins and 17 losses. But with such a huge gap from the previous ODI played at Karachi to now, it’s probably futile to look into this in detail.
The hosts definitely enter the match as favourites with the visitors missing a few of their first-choice players who pulled out of the tour due to security concerns.
Since 2017, Sri Lanka’s win/loss ratio in ODIs is only better than Papua New Guinea. At the World Cup, their most memorable victory came against eventual champions England, but there weren’t many other bright spots as they managed just three wins from seven games.
On the other hand, Pakistan began the World Cup poorly but excelled in the second half of the tournament – winning four matches on the bounce and missing out on the semi-finals only due to net run-rate. As is usually the case with Pakistan, their pacers were their shining stars during the tournament.
While Shaheen Shah Afridi will miss this series as he is recovering from dengue, the rejuvenated pair of Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz – both of whom are concentrating only on white ball cricket – will lead the pace attack. Amir, especially, had a brilliant World Cup after being a surprise selection in the first place. The 27-year-old took 17 wickets during the World Cup, striking once every 25.7 deliveries and conceding fewer than five runs an over.
For Sri Lanka, replacing the retired Lasith Malinga won’t be an easy task. At the World Cup, while the legendary pacer took 13 wickets, the second highest wicket-taker for the Lankans was Isuru Udana with six scalps. They have picked four fast bowlers in their squad – Nuwan Pradeep, Isuru Udana, Kasun Rajitha, Lahiru Kumara – and will be hopeful that one of them will stand up and emerge as the leader of the pack.
With 40 ODIs under his belt, Pradeep is the most experienced pacer and looks the best bet to take up the role for at least the near future. In fact, he has bowled reasonably well in 50-over cricket over the last couple of years. Since 2018, he has 24 wickets at an average of 28.87 from 14 matches in the format.
On the batting front, with the likes of Angelo Mathews, Kusal Perera and Dimuth Karunaratne missing, they will rely on the talented Avishka Fernando to come good. Fernando has a fifty and a hundred in his last five ODI innings and it’s the perfect time for him to put together a consistent run of scores and, thereby, cement his place in the top order.
Pakistan, meanwhile, have had a stable top three for a couple of years now. Babar Azam has established himself as one of the best batsmen in the world and his recent form has also been remarkable. At the World Cup, he notched up 474 runs at an average of 67.71 and followed it up with a fantastic Blast T20 where he was the top run-getter with 578 runs at an average of 52.54 and a strike rate of 149.35.
But coming into this series, an area of concern for the hosts will be the performances of their openers at ODI cricket’s marquee event. The duo managed to put on a partnership of 50+ just thrice. Albeit a bit inconsistent, Imam-ul-Haq showed glimpses of his best at the World Cup, but Fakhar Zaman ended the tournament with only 186 runs at an average of 23.25.
The openers are crucial for Pakistan as their recent results have been directly proportional to the opening partnership. In ODIs, when Fakhar and Imam have put up a stand of 50+, the Sarfaraz Ahmed-led side have a win percentage of 90.9. When they fail to get to the 50-run mark, that number falls to 38.1.
While Pakistan seem to have the upper hand when it comes to batting and bowling, fielding continues to be their kryptonite. During the World Cup, no team dropped more catches than them and since 2018, they have taken the least percentage of catches (73) presented to them in ODIs. If Pakistan are to challenge the world’s best at marquee events, they need to improve in a big way in this aspect of the game and there’s no better time than the present to start doing that.
Playing at home under the mentorship of Misbah-ul-Haq, this is the start of a new era for Pakistan cricket as they will be hoping to throw away the tag of being an unpredictable side by putting together a string of consistent performances. Meanwhile, it’s a good opportunity for younger Sri Lankan players to stake a claim for a permanent place in the side after a sub-par World Cup display.