June 18, 2012
First things first: have Pakistan recovered from Sunday’s shock? They will be hoping the answer to that question is a “Yes” because they have absolutely no time to ponder over their unbelievable loss in the 4th ODI; the final match will be played with only a day’s rest in between. The visitors looked like the better side in the early part of the tour – the T20 series was shared and the hosts were thumped convicingly in the opening ODI at Pallekele. However, things changed rather quickly from there on as Sri Lanka showed why they’re so strong at home, leaving Pakistan in a do or die situation as they go into the final match.
Sri Lanka: The hosts seemed to have problems with their top order in the first half of the tour but they have addressed that in quick time. Their main players – Dilshan, Sangakkara and captain Mahela Jayawardene have scored some useful runs – Dilshan made a century in the second ODI while Sangakkara missed it by just 3 runs in the fourth. However, they will be hoping for better contributions from the likes of Tharanga and Chandimal, as the rest of the batting order hasn’t made it big yet. Jayawardene has anchored the middle order with a couple of good knocks and will be the key once again if the rest of the batsmen fail.
The star in the bowling line up has been a bit of a surprise – Thisara Perera. The all-rounder has come from nowhere and rattled the Pakistani batsmen with his gentle movement, picking up a total of 10 wickets from the 3 games played. The tally included a dramatic hat-trick in the previous game, which sparked a collapse that left Pakistan absolutely stunned. Malinga, Kulasekara and Mathews have supported Perera well and spinner Weerakoon did a decent job in the only chance he got.
Pakistan: Only Pakistan can lose matches the way they did in the previous ODI. From 166-2 to 199 all out with as many as 5 ducks in between, the visitors collapsed in a dramatic fashion and spoilt their chances of a series win in Sri Lanka. There is now a real danger that Pakistan will undo all the good work done in the last couple of years, as they are showing signs of going back to their bad times. The reasons for their losses in the recent past have been the same that gave them the tag ‘unpredictable’ – batting collapses – and they need to address it soon. The opening combination is unstable again, their batsmen are playing rash shots, and to make it worse their best batsmen in the line up – Younis Khan – is terribly out of form (he has scored only 97 runs in his last 9 ODIs). His poor form has forced changes in the batting order and leaves a huge void in the middle order, in turn putting more pressure on captain Misbah and the other top order batsmen. With time running out and calls for his head growing stronger by the day, Younis has to come up with a special performance in the final ODI to silence his critics and justify his place.
The positive sign for Pakistan is the form of Azhar Ali, but will look for better efforts and responsibility from Umar Akmal and co in the lower order to avoid collapses like the one in the previous ODI. The bowling, as always, has the variations and the balance to strike big on any given day.
Final word: Sri Lanka look to be the team in form at the moment, but given Pakistan’s unpredictability, it is hard to write them off. None of that will matter though, if rain has the final say..