Despite all the obstacles in the form of player withdrawals and an alleged terror threat, Sri Lanka still agreed to tour Pakistan and be a party to ODI cricket’s historic return to Karachi. The highly anticipated three-match series faced an insipid start when relentless rain washed out the first encounter but Pakistan triumphed in the remaining two games to extend their newfound hegemony at home.
We now focus on the five takeaways from Pakistan’s march to their first series win in almost 15 months in front of dubiously low turnouts.
Usman Shinwari, Abid Ali and Iftikhar Ahmed all registered glittering comebacks to the national side leaving the Pakistan fans once again questioning the wisdom of the previous selection committee in sidelining these players for the World Cup squad.
Shinwari scaled new heights in the second ODI when he snared five wickets to stretch his dominant record over Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, Abid’s sumptuous drives en route to an enterprising 74 off 67 deliveries was a delight to watch. The nimble wristwork employed by Abid to elegantly time his shots shows he is one player Pakistan would want to stick with in the long-run.
Shinwari lets out a celebratory roar ©AFP
Iftikhar, deemed as Pakistan’s new finisher and a handy customer with the ball, executed his task to perfection in both outings against Sri Lanka. While these are still early days for him, the 29-year-old might well be the like-for-like replacement Pakistan are in need of in place of Mohammad Hafeez.
Babar Azam is among the most valuable commodities in white-ball cricket – he might even be on-par with the likes of Virat Kohli and Jos Buttler. The finesse and poise of his stroke-making punished the Sri Lankans, who toiled hard against the extremely gifted player.
One aspect of his game that garnered much attention was his inability to switch gears effectively and improve his scoring rate according to the situation. This issue seems to be have been dealt with efficiently since Babar scored at a rapid strike rate of 111.45 across the two games.
The effortless class oozed by Babar can be encapsulated by the superb maximum he blasted off Lahiru Kumara with a nonchalant flick of the wrists to a fuller-length ball, tonking it over long-on.
Few teams are able to showcase such a determined fight against the firm favourites in the absence of ten senior players. Although the scoreline reads in favour of Pakistan, Sri Lanka will take a lot of positives from their young and inexperienced squad heading into the T20I series.
The template seemed set for a ragged one-sided affair after Sri Lanka were reduced to 28-5 in the second ODI but Dasun Shanaka and Shehan Jayasuriya stitched a record 177-run partnership that gave the hosts a close scare. In the subsequent meeting between the two sides, Danushka Gunathilaka battled with a stunning 133 that lifted his side to a respectable total.
Gunathilaka acknowledges the applause ©Getty Images
It might be a long time before some of these players in the present Sri Lanka lineup become household names in the world of cricket but this is the stage where the ‘unknowns’ turn into heroes.
Pakistan cricket and lack of discipline in the field appear ever so synonymous following another shambolic effort by the players. The third ODI saw Pakistan make a mess of routine chances and concede several overthrows. Such was the frequency of slip-ups in the field that skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed’s voice sounded hoarse by the end of the Sri Lanka innings.
The bout of sloppy fielding might as well be contagious since the visitors were also guilty of a number of costly misses when it was their turn in the field on Wednesday.
Sarfaraz Ahmed’s appointment as the Pakistan captain has taken a massive toll on his batting performances. Coming at the back of a personally underwhelming World Cup campaign, Sarfaraz’s fortunes failed to overturn as he accumulated 31 runs in two innings on flat decks.
Sarfaraz plays the ball onto his stumps ©Getty Images
The most alarming feature of Sarfaraz’s latest failure is that he was promoted up the order on both occasions – supposedly a potential solution to his batting woes. The manner of his dismissals, a frantic mix-up leading to a run-out and a drab chop onto the stumps, depicts a batsman low on confidence.
With back-up wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan warming the bench, the uncertainty surrounding Sarfaraz’s authentic place in the batting order needs to be addressed as soon as possible.