After the first ODI washout, the series is very much alive for both teams. Pakistan were firm favorites in the second ODI and they managed to limit Sri Lanka on 238 courtesy of a fiery bowling display from a charged up Usman Shinwari—who was left out of the World Cup 2019 squad and was itching for a comeback.
Pakistan would like to stretch their winning streak against Sri Lanka who were left in tatters early in their chase at 28-5 in the last game. Shehan Jayasuriya and Dasun Shanaka forged a record partnership of 177 which was a rare bright spot for Sri Lanka in an otherwise one-sided affair.
On a flat batting surface, Usman Shinwari proved to be the difference between the two sides. He was fast, menacing, and speared heat-seeking deliveries in all of his spells. On the other hand, Sri Lankans were no match for the Pakistan attack.
What a time to be alive as we witness Babar Azam grow in stature as a solid middle-order batsman and he surely joins the elite list of modern-day greats. The recently promoted vice-captain seemed unflustered while playing the anchor role the other day. He is expected to continue along his merry way and cash in on his prolific form. His 11th century demonstrated his insatiable hunger for runs.
Pakistan would have got the reflex actions going as they tasted international cricket after a hibernation period post World Cup 2019. The onus will be on the hosts to up the intensity and seal the series in clinical fashion given all regular members of the team are featuring in the series coupled with the advantage of playing in their own backyard.
Lahiru Thirimanne will have to step up to the occasion and steady the ship in case of a batting collapse. He was bowled out on a duck the other day. Sri Lanka could spring a surprise if their batters stay on the crease for longer periods of time and if their bowlers could put up a concerted effort by acclimatizing quickly to the conditions. Hostile pace is a coveted trait to possess in armory while bowling on wickets that are conducive to batting?—and that is a major weak link in visitor's pace attack.
Imam-ul-Haq got a split webbing in the last encounter and his availability in the third ODI is in doubt. In case of his absence, Abid Ali could get an opportunity to play his first international match in front of his home crowd.
Shadab Khan went for plenty in his quota of overs and was knocked out of the park on several occasions even though there was enough turn to exploit. He got the wicket of Dasun Shanaka when he was trying to accelerate in the last 10 overs and another wicket came off the miscued pull shot from Wanindu Hasaranga. He has lost some of his prodigious turn and bite that he used to get in the early days of his career. Moreover, his counterpart Wanindu Hasaranga, who is new to the setup, removed both openers day before yesterday and will take heart from that performance.
Iftikhar Ahmed’s blitz during the death overs provided the impetus in the first innings and he was also handy with the bowl. It might be too early to say that he fills Mohammad Hafeez's shoes but he has certainly got heaps of domestic cricket experience to transition smoothly as a regular member of the ODI side. Additionally, he has also got the backing of Misbah-ul-Haq - the head coach and chief selector - who rates him very highly.
Sri Lanka will have to weather the storm from Usman Shinwari if they fancy putting up a big total or chase a stiff target in the final ODI at National Stadium, Karachi.
Pakistan: Sarfaraz Ahmed (c), Babar Azam (vc), Abid Ali, Asif Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Hasnain, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Shadab Khan, Usman Shinwari, Wahab Riaz.
Sri Lanka: Lahiru Thirimanne (c), Danushka Gunathilaka, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Avishka Fernando, Oshada Fernando, Shehan Jayasuriya, Dasun Shanaka, Minod Bhanuka, Angelo Perera, Wanindu Hasaranga, Lakshan Sandakan, Nuwan Pradeep, Isuru Udana, Kasun Rajitha, Lahiru Kumara