Pakistan’s loss in the first T20I was supposed to be an aberration. They’d won 29 of their 33 T20I matches since the 2016 World T20, and the loss was at the time considered a blip in the natural order of things, against a Sri Lankan side made up of fringe players. However, when on Monday, October 7, they lost the second T20I as well, and with it the series, the alarm bells truly went off.
The timing isn’t great, for starters. Having excelled for the best part of three years, Pakistan have now lost 5 of their 6 T20Is in 2019. The T20 Men’s Cricket World Cup is just a year away, and the question that this series loss has thrown up is whether Pakistan have peaked at the wrong time. That this downturn in form has come about in front of their adoring home fans has only made matters worse.
What’s imperative now is to arrest the slide as soon as possible, and stop it from hanging over the team like a dark cloud and be the narrative of their build-up to the World Cup next year. A win against Sri Lanka in the final T20I on Wednesday, October 9, will go some way to doing that. But as desperate as Pakistan will be to win this final T20I, Sri Lanka have their tail up.
This ragtag bunch, thrown together at the last minute after the first choices backed away, have shown heart and fight, and been rewarded with the results. They will want to close this series with a sweep, and if they do that, some of them may well find a place in the senior side for the World Cup next year, perhaps even at the expense of some of the players who withdrew from this tour. That would be something.
Head to head
Pakistan still hold the better head-to-head record between these sides. In 20 matches, they have won 13, restricting Sri Lanka to just 7 wins. However, two of those wins have come in the last week, and Pakistan will be hoping to stop it at that.
Fakhar Zaman (Pakistan): The opener is one of those batsmen who, on his day, can bat the opposition out of the game. Pakistan desperately need him to have one of those days. Having been dropped to accommodate Ahmed Shehzad in the first T20I, who promptly flunked, Zaman’s value was recognised ahead of the second match, only for him to make 6. He has to come good in the final T20I.
Wanindu Hasaranga (Sri Lanka): Nuwan Pradeep might have got four wickets, but it was Hasaranga who gave Sri Lanka the advantage with his ripping leg-spin, dismantling the spin of Pakistan with the wickets of Ahmed Shehzad, Sarfaraz Ahmed and Umar Akmal. The batsmen found it hard to pick him, and the home side will be particularly wary of him now.
Pakistan: Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Ahmed Shehzad, Sarfaraz Ahmed (c & wk), Umar Akmal, Asif Ali, Imad Wasim, Wahab Riaz, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hasnain
Sri Lanka: Danushka Gunathilaka, Avishka Fernando, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Shehan Jayasuriya, Dasun Shanaka (c), Minod Bhanuka (wk), Isuru Udana, Wanindu Hasaranga, Lakshan Sandakan, Nuwan Pradeep, Kasun Rajitha
Pakistan to mute the doubters, for the time being, with a scratchy win.