No amount of applause is enough for what the young Sri Lankan team has achieved in Lahore. Pulling off a whitewash against the number one ranked team in their backyard is no ordinary feat. With T20 World Cup just a year away, Pakistan has been given a serious jolt. Here are the five likely reasons why Pakistan lost the T20 series:
The top six failed miserably in the series. It was a gamble to bring back Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal in the playing eleven. The move backfired massively as Akmal bagged golden ducks on both occasions while Shehzad aggregated just 17 off 25 balls across two innings.
With Sarfaraz Ahmed low on confidence with the bat, Iftikhar Ahmed still finding his feet at international level and Asif Ali making a comeback, Pakistan could only rely on Babar Azam among the top six batters - but even the number one ranked batsman hiccupped in the series.
Teams always need a good opening stand while chasing a stiff target and Pakistan didn’t get one. The ever-reliable Babar Azam looked completely off-color in the series and returned with paltry scores of 13, 3 and 27. Pakistan opening stand for the first wicket were 13, 9 and 0. Fakhar Zaman featured in two games and wasn’t able to create a significant impact.
Early wickets while chasing set Sarfaraz's men pegged back in all three games. Pakistan’s power-play scores were 30-3, 40-2 while chasing 183 and 35-1 in the last one. Imad Wasim’s blistering 47 off 29 in the second T20 and Haris Sohail’s measured half-century were the only notable contributions.
Pakistani batsmen have always been found wanting in the white-ball formats with regards to their power-hitting and their shortcoming was evident in Lahore. In all three games, Pakistan couldn’t clear the ropes and that cost them dearly.
The batsmen were able to hit boundaries on just five occasions throughout the three games. On the other hand, Sri Lanka hit 15 sixes in the series. In the 3rd T20I, Oshada Fernando on debut scored a 48 ball 78 which included eight fours and three sixes while Pakistan could only manage seven fours and three sixes in their entire innings.
Pakistan’s rise to the top of the T20I rankings was mainly due to their bowling prowess. For a team which has dismissed oppositions most times in the history of the format, conceding scores in excess of 160 on two occasions was an anamoly. Their incapability to pick up wickets at the start hurt them badly. On two occasions, the islanders were allowed to get away with blistering starts in power-play scoring 64 and 52 respectively.
Sarfaraz’s usual mantra of strangling the opposition with the spin in the middle overs was halted due to Shadab Khan's below-par performance. The leg spinner went for 108 runs and picked up only two wickets in three games. In first T20I Sarfaraz vacillated between five bowling options just in the power play. In the second T20I, Sri Lanka scored 97 in the last 10 overs.
After being at the receiving end in the first two outings, Muhammad Amir came back well in the third match and bagged impressive figures of 3-27. Imad Wasim also bowled an economical spell and went for only 18 runs in his spell.
For this young Sri Lankan side, this was an opportunity to showcase their talent on the big stage. They had no baggage of the past and they certainly didn’t disappoint the selectors and have in fact put them in a dilemma for the future. Playing against the number one ranked T20 side in their backyard, there is bound to be some nerves but the islanders didn’t show any signs of jitters and let the natural flair take over.
Even knowing the fact they might not be considered when the regular players return, they gave their all. Danushka Gunathilaka, Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Oshada Fernando on debut, scored match-winning half-centuries and were major contributors in posting defendable scores. The young captain, Dasun Shanaka finished the games exquisitely well by scoring at a swift rate and led his troops brilliantly on the field.
The bowling was quintessential as well on slow tracks. The senior pros in this team: Isuru Udana and Nuwan Pradeep were accurate with the ball in the two games they played. Pradeep troubled the Pakistan batsmen with his consistent nagging lines and sideways movement. He took seven wickets while Isuru claimed five.
Wanindu Hasaranga was adjudged as the man of the series and in him, Sri Lanka have definitely found one for the future. It is safe to say that many of these young players have booked their tickets for the next series against Australia.
The selection of playing eleven was also a big contributor to the dismal show from the hosts. Dropping Fakhar Zaman for the initial game who was coming off on the back of two half-centuries in ODIs was an odd move. Shadab Khan was persisted for all three games while Muhammad Nawaz couldn’t get an opportunity and warmed the bench.
Dropping Iftikhar Ahmed for the second T20I encounter was a perplexing move given he made 32* and 28* and had the coveted brute force in the wrists to muscle some hits in the stands. He gave Pakistan the much-needed impetus in the death overs of the ODI series and then went on to top-score for the green shirts in the first T20 encounter with 25. In addition to that his off-spinners would have given Pakistan the sixth bowling option.
After the whitewash, the new team management has a lot to ponder, unearth new talent and get the combination right before the Australia tour.
(With inputs from Rvel Zahid)