ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

Sri Lanka v Pakistan, Group A, World Cup 2011, Colombo

Familiar rivals line up in big contest

Recently, when Pakistan haven't known anything about their future on and off the field, they've always known that soon, they'll be playing against Sri Lanka

Osman Samiuddin in Colombo

February 25, 2011

Comments: 129 | Text size: A | A

Misbah-ul-Haq launches the innings' only six, New Zealand v Pakistan, 1st ODI, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, January 22, 2011
Misbah-ul-Haq has a simple plan to tackle Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga: "Play them on merit." © AFP

There must be a certain comfort for Pakistan in taking on Sri Lanka. This has nothing to do with who is the better side, but on the grounds of familiarity alone. In the last five years, when Pakistan haven't known anything about their future on and off the field, they've always known that soon, they'll be playing against Sri Lanka.

When looking to introduce a new captain, they look to Sri Lanka, as they did with Shoaib Malik and a three-ODI series in Abu Dhabi just after the last World Cup. In the interests of symmetry they even ended Malik's captaincy two years later just after he had lost another three-match series against them. The first international Pakistan played after the Oval Test forfeit and the positive dope tests of Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif was against Sri Lanka. The most joyous occasions, such as the World Twenty20 win have involved Sri Lanka. The saddest, the Lahore attacks just before, have also regrettably involved them.

No country has played more against Pakistan in the last five years across all three formats than Sri Lanka (30 games). In a recent board-to-board interchange, both chairmen referred to the other in "brotherly" terms. It was a pointless exchange about Sri Lanka's scheduled series against Pakistan in October this year and the remote possibility of it being played in Pakistan. But if and when international cricket does return, it can be easily imagined that Sri Lanka will be the first visitors.

In many ways, the rivalry has been a balm, a soothing one, for Pakistan.

Lately, quietly slipping in under the radar of traditional duels, it has become an intense one. In the vernacular, you might even say it has acquired kaanta, or needle. In 17 ODIs since January 2006, the sides have won eight games each. None of the games have been particularly close but as a whole, contests have been competitive and carried meaningful sub-plots.

"I think Pakistan is a great side, they've got great balance, they've got match winning cricketers, not just one but quite a lot of them, so any opposition is wary of them," Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka's captain, said. "We are not going to take anything lightly or for granted, we are just going to go out there and do the best what we can."

Sangakkara, who contributed to the needle with a much-remembered slanging match with Younis Khan in 2009, speaks from a position of equality, if not outright control. The equality is a modern attribute, since Sri Lanka's rise from 1996. Pakistan may well have won six out of six World Cup encounters before Saturday, but - and this is remarkable - they haven't come across each other since 1992.

The stat means nothing. Altogether more relevant is the run-in: Sri Lanka have won six of the last eight.

Familiarity, in fact, may be the winning and losing of it. Pakistan, over the years, have learnt not to give wickets to Muttiah Muralitharan; he's taken 95 in 64 ODIs, but they rarely crumble to him. Even then, Waqar Younis' bullish assessment, that Muralitharan "isn't 28 anymore" and that the going may not be easy for him, tempts fate. Similarly, Lasith Malinga, not a certainty, has not been as difficult to fathom as others have found.

And arguably, they were the first country to decode Ajantha Mendis.

"We've played a lot of cricket against them and understand each other's games well," Misbah-ul-Haq said. "Both Muralitharan and Malinga are world class. But we've played them quite a lot, and players understand their strengths. Simple plan: play them on merit."

Instead, it is men such as Nuwan Kulusekera or even Rangana Herath if he plays, the more orthodox if you will, of Sri Lanka's stars who have troubled Pakistan consistently. If Pakistan can shed their caution and attach another specialist bowler, their attack will be deceptively incisive. Regardless, we are assured of the presence of a vast, varied cast of match-winners on the field tomorrow, any of them capable of changing a game in a blink.

For the World Cup, the R Premadasa has taken on a new visage. A day before the game, and empty, it still looked faintly intimidating, even threatening. The stands are new and high. The game is sold-out. The city is feeling it now, building up to it. The weekend is here. Both teams are wound up, ready to be let at each other. It will be some atmosphere, a true theatre for what will be - hopefully, given the lack of them so far - a true contest.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of ESPNcricinfo

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Comments: 129 
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Posted by Manoj on (February 26, 2011, 8:41 GMT)

I am Indian, but really wants to see a blaster batting of Afridi. In school day I tried to play like him. Just attack and attack, Its mad, really waiting for that madness.

Posted by rashid on (February 26, 2011, 8:30 GMT)


Posted by mohammad on (February 26, 2011, 8:26 GMT)

I live in Maryland, USA and last night I had only 2 hours of sleep. I got up at 2:00am Maryland time and waiting for this game. The players from these two countries play in such a friendly atmosphere and play competitive cricket that becomes enjoyable for all. Going to be a close game unless some power hitter clicks or some bowler finds his magic. Sanga, DMP vs Shoeb, Gul, you can't expect anything better.

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 26, 2011, 8:21 GMT)

Being Indian, I love both neighbor teams...so can't cheer one over another. But a good world cup will do wonders for Pak cricket...Good luck!

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 26, 2011, 7:59 GMT)

haiiiiiiiiiiiii raaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

Posted by BaBa on (February 26, 2011, 7:36 GMT)

It doesn't matter who wins upcoming contest ..... Pak and SL are like brothers... both countries helped and support each other years to come. I'm Team Pak fan but wish best of luck to SL ... wan to see both teams in final ... than let the better team win the wc2011...

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 26, 2011, 7:03 GMT)

Best wishes for pakistan...Hoping for a crunch nail biter as alwys...

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 26, 2011, 6:54 GMT)


Posted by Zubair on (February 26, 2011, 6:53 GMT)

Today the match between Pakistan & Sri lanka wil be important for both sides,who will win having more chances to winning momentum.I think Sri lanka is most balanced team in fielding and batting their bowling is good but not in this conditions.The Reverse swing will be effected later on if dew factor not in late night.Pakistan either batted first or later should be win.It is real test for Pakistan and Sri lanka too who is improved side.Pakistan should take Junaid Khan or Wahab Riaz to bowling.The side which play against Kenya a change be must either a bast man or spin bowler should be replaced with seam bowler.

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 26, 2011, 6:52 GMT)

his is gonna be a cracker of a match.. at the top of their game n Pakistan are the most unpredictable side.. Im a sri lankan n wish my country will win. and hope Pak too will come to the semis.. anyways finishing at the top two spots of group A should be the primary goal of both teams. Respect all pak fans for their genuineness.. Go lions!!!

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Osman SamiuddinClose
Osman Samiuddin Osman spent the first half of his life pretending he discovered reverse swing with a tennis ball half-covered with electrical tape. The second half of his life was spent trying, and failing, to find spiritual fulfillment in the world of Pakistani advertising and marketing. The third half of his life will be devoted to convincing people that he did discover reverse swing. And occasionally writing about cricket. And learning mathematics.

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