It seems bizarre, given this is a World Cup game, but just three weeks ago Pakistan and Sri Lanka played an ODI that arguably mattered more. They battled it out to the final ball of a knockout match at the Asia Cup, with Sri Lanka stealing the win and booking a berth in the final. Hindsight might cast Tuesday’s fixture in Hyderabad to be just as pivotal, but at the moment nothing feels so urgent, so drastic, as everything did in Colombo.
Both sides have played one game in this World Cup, have shaken hands and introduced themselves to this World Cup. Neither has quite made the best first impression, but Pakistan have two points and a win pinned to their lapel, while Sri Lanka remain unadorned at the points table. The mitigating circumstance, of course, is that Pakistan played Netherlands and still looked shaky during certain passages of play, while Sri Lanka took on a South African batting juggernaut, and for a while gave as good as they got in a frenetic, if ultimately unsuccessful, chase.
Sri Lanka are now in Hyderabad which, as Babar Azam said earlier, has already begun to feel a bit like home for Pakistan. They have been here since they arrived in India two weeks ago, and will play one last game in the city before moving to Ahmedabad. They know there were plenty of imperfections in that victory against Netherlands, not least with the openers’ loss of form, but fortunately for Pakistan their middle order has suddenly sprung to life. And for all their worries about loss of control with the ball in the middle overs, Haris Rauf showed he was back to his best, finding wickets through that period and blasting batting line-ups wide open.
Sri Lanka might just consider writing off their bowling performance against South Africa and starting over. Few bowling units can control a South African onslaught in full flow, as Australia discovered last month in the a bilateral series. Pakistan do not possess that kind of power, and Hyderabad is less likely to be conducive to the kind of monstrous hitting Sri Lanka couldn’t withstand in Delhi.
They will be buoyed by the manner in which they went about the chase, demonstrating their own ability to take on a bowling attack relentlessly across 50 overs. Meanwhile, memories of the control they possessed during a cold, calculated chase against Pakistan in that high-pressure Asia Cup fixture should power their belief they can finally break their World Cup duck (0-7) against Pakistan.
Pakistan WLLWW (last five completed matches, most recent first) Sri Lanka LLWLW
In the spotlight
Fakhar Zaman’s poor form has got the most attention, but Imam-ul-Haq‘s runs appear to have tapered off as well. He has only one score above 16 in his last seven 50-over games including the World Cup warm-ups. While there is no reason to believe he isn’t fully fit, Pakistan will need to see him prove it with runs in a top order that has suddenly run dry. In Sri Lanka, he has a bowling unit theoretically ripe for plunder after what South Africa did to them, and an opportunity to go into Pakistan’s game against India with World Cup runs under his belt.
Charith Asalanka is one of the best middle-overs batters in the world at the moment. No one has scored more runs batting at No. 5 or lower since his ODI debut, and his 1327 runs have come at an average above 45 and a strike rate above 90. Time and again, he has maintained – or provided – impetus to a Sri Lankan innings through the middle, and broke Pakistan hearts with a nerveless unbeaten 49 to knock them out of the Asia Cup last month. After an indifferent couple of warm-ups, he was back in form against South Africa, top scoring with a 65-ball 79. So his form, combined with the question mark over Pakistan’s spinners, will make that passage of play an intriguing and possibly match-defining one.
Fakhar Zaman’s poor form has seen the pressure pile on him, and with Abdullah Shafique waiting in the wings, expect him to come into the side.
Pakistan (possible) 1 Abdullah Shafique 2 Imam-ul-Haq 3 Babar Azam (capt) 4 Mohammad Rizwan (wk) 5 Saud Shakeel 6 Iftikhar Ahmed 7 Shadab Khan 8 Mohammad Nawaz 9 Hasan Ali 10 Shaheen Shah Afridi 11 Haris Rauf
Sri Lanka may consider a change or two in their bowling line-up after what happened against South Africa. Maheesh Theekshana didn’t start that game with an injury but is available for Tuesday’s game. He could replace Kasun Rajitha.
Some cloud cover is expected in Hyderabad during the game, but no rain. The pitch should be conducive to big scores; New Zealand scored 322 against the Netherlands in Hyderabad on Monday.
Stats and trivia
Imam is nine short of 3000 ODI runs. If he gets them tomorrow, it will have taken him 67 innings. Only Hashim Amla (57) has got there quicker. Fakhar Zaman and Shai Hope also took 67 innings, while Babar Azam needed 68.
Sri Lanka have never beaten Pakistan at the ODI World Cup, losing all seven completed matches. The sides’ clash in 2019 was washed out.
“We have faith in our players to know what they need to do to prepare. Some have chosen to prepare another way instead of draining out energy at training today. From a coaching point of view, I’m very happy with that”
Pakistan head coach Grant Bradburn backs the decision of Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Rizwan and Imam-ul-Haq not to take part in an optional training session on the eve of the match