SHARJAH: Two matches into the series, there is little to pick between the sides. As clashes between these two often go, the cricket has been as entertaining as it has been tense. Both innings in the last match ebbed, flowed, stagnated and resurged. In the end, Angelo Mathews’ mettle was the difference. Two largely new trends have also emerged. Pakistan have been adept at constructing one-day innings. Since the new rules only allowing four men outside the 30-yard circle was introduced last year, teams have increasingly adopted circumspection early on, confident that boundaries would flow later on. Neither Pakistan nor Sri Lanka had been quick to embrace this strategy but, in this series so far, there have been extended periods when they have not pursued big shots.
Given Pakistan have produced two centurions already and have put up commanding totals as a result, the shift in approach appears a fruitful one, for now. Sri Lanka have also discovered that they now bat deeper than they probably ever have in ODIs. Seekkuge Prasanna’s reintroduction has added dynamism to the lower-order batting and provided another potential pinch-hitter. Nuwan Kulasekara’s batting has also blossomed over the last 18 months, to the extent that he his nearing allrounder territory. And Sachithra Senanayake’s touch and temperament have been telling. Given even No. 11 Lasith Malinga has an ODI fifty; the seniors at the top of the order have had their burden eased.
Again it was the bowling that let each captain down in the second match. Pakistan caught a huge break when they ran both Sri Lanka’s opening batsmen out but their spinners could not consolidate that position as well as Misbahul Haq might have hoped. If it wasn’t for Junaid Khan’s intensity through the middle overs, Sri Lanka would have chased the biggest total ever at the stadium with ease.
Sri Lanka were perhaps even more toothless with the ball. There was not much turn off the surface, but even their top spin bowler, Senanayake, bowled most of his overs around the wicket – which turned out to be a decent way to keep the boundaries down, but did not create chances. Given it is a discipline that both teams pride themselves on in ODIs, coaches and team management will search for quick solutions before their attacks deteriorate further.
Given Nuwan Kulasekara’s contributions to Friday’s victory, the decision to drop him for the Sharjah ODI seems even more boneheaded. For the past year he has been more valuable to the team than Lasith Malinga. Not only is he more consistent, he is secure in the field (two World Cup finals drops aside), and one of the cleanest hitters in the team once he gets his eye in. He was far from his accurate best in the opening overs of the last match but the inswing he induced prompted caution from the opposition and he was decent towards the death as well. He will hope team management does not lapse into flawed logic again, as the action returns to Sharjah.
Forget Pakistan, Junaid Khan is one of the finest fast-bowling talents anywhere. At a time when ODI totals are increasing and bowlers are having their figures drummed into the dirt, Junaid averages 22.93 after 39 matches – a far superior average to Dale Steyn, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, for instance. He bowled a series of cracking balls in an already terrific spell to waylay Sri Lanka’s middle order on Friday, but the men around him in the attack could not provide adequate support. If he can maintain his rhythm for the remainder of the series and into the Tests, he will improve his already burgeoning reputation.
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