Sri Lanka look to salvage pride
Just over a week ago, before the start of the Abu Dhabi series, it was hard to imagine a young Pakistan team, with a new captain and without the services of a coach, would go into the final ODI having already wrapped up the series. The twin wins appeared convincing thanks mainly to Shahid Afridi, who reminded us that he can score once in a while even as he has, as noted time and again, matured immensely with the other half of his allrounder status.
While Shoaib Malik, who impressed with some bold decisions in the field as well as his democratic consultation acts, aims for a whitewash, he made it clear that newcomers will get a chance to feature in the final match. Abdul Razzaq, with a poor series so far since returning from a knee injury, and Umar Gul, the highest wicket-taker in the series but at an expensive rate, will probably make way for the left-arm duo of Fawad Alam (allrounder) and Najaf Shah (medium pacer).
Mohammad Sami, who has toiled zealously in searing temperatures, looks all set to be rested with Rao Iftikhar likely to take up his place. Mohammad Hafeez, an opener and a useful offspinner but with ordinary averages, could also play a part providing Mohammad Yousuf, who has so far struggled with the bat and looked sluggish in the field, or Imran Nazir, affected by cramps in the second match, are dropped.
For Sri Lanka, the match marks the end of Tom Moody's regime as their coach. Taking over from John Dyson in 2005, the highlight of Moody's stint with Sri Lanka was guiding them to the final of the World Cup. Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lankan captain, would understandably want to send Moody off with a victory.
The series for Sri Lanka has been mostly about blooding a few new faces as well as giving second chances. And due to this, they have come out second best in all departments of the game, including catching. Sri Lanka go into the final match with Farvez Maharoof as their highest scorer, as well as the highest wicket taker, and while the services of notable absentees have been severely missed, they would want to take something from this trip.
Sanath Jayasuria and Lasith Malinga, members of the World Cup squad, were both rested for the last match could very well make it back to the eleven to avoid an embarrassing whitewash weeks after a hugely successful World Cup campaign. Malinga Bandara, bar that 32-run over in the first match, has impressed with his flighted legspinners and looks likely to assist Tillakaratne Dilshan in keeping the batsmen quiet.
By the looks of things, whatever the outcome of the final match, both teams will go back a relieved unit; Pakistan will be satisfied with its new captain and the mixture of youth and experience bonding so effectively while a depleted and worn out Sri Lanka, showing signs of exhaustion, will be happy to get a break before some of its players star in the Afro-Asia tournament next month.
Faras Ghani is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo