June 1, 2012

Pakistan's chance to go one-up on India

Pakistan will aim to reverse the fortunes from their last trip to Sri Lanka, where they are headed now with a coach who shares a past with the island
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There were times when Pakistan supporters anticipated a tour of Sri Lanka with the tranquility of one looking ahead to a stroll down a primrose path. Those times are long gone. As a fresh series in Sri Lanka approaches, the air is filled with excitement, anxiety, even a certain amount of dread. This is the Sri Lanka of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Thilan Samaraweera and Tillakaratne Dilshan; of insistent seam and menacing spin; of tenacity, vigour, confrontation and fight. It is no walk in the park.

Pakistan may have reinvented themselves in recent times, but their last tour to Sri Lanka, in July-August 2009, was a nightmare, and the pain lingers. In the first Test, in Galle, they fluffed a fourth-innings target of 168 by collapsing for 117, after at one point being 71 for 2. In the second Test, in Colombo, they were dismissed for 90 in the first innings despite winning the toss and batting, and then lost their last eight wickets for 26 runs in the second innings after having clawed their way back into the game. Even by Pakistan standards, both collapses were spectacular. In both matches it was the upright seam of Nuwan Kulasekara and the deft spin of Rangana Herath that proved Pakistan's undoing.

Admittedly, with the spot-fixing exorcism, the Asia Cup title in hand, and an unbroken streak of five Test victories, Pakistan are in very different shape now. Yet captain Misbah-ul-Haq and coach Dav Whatmore might want to keep the memory of those appalling collapses alive, with the aim of warding off over-confidence.

What makes this clash particularly appealing is the tense balance of power that currently exists between the two sides. Although Sri Lanka were defeated in all three forms of the game last year in Pakistan's relocated home series in the UAE, both teams remain neck to neck in resources and rankings. They are adjacent on the Test and ODI ladders, separated by narrow margins: Pakistan are fifth and Sri Lanka sixth in Tests, and the positions are switched in ODIs. In Twenty20s, Sri Lanka are third and Pakistan fifth, but there too the separation of points is modest.

Man for man, the batting arsenals are closely matched in Tests, but Pakistan have the edge in Test bowling and Sri Lanka in ODI batting. The current Test top 20s, for example, include three batsmen each from Pakistan (Younis Khan, Azhar Ali, and Misbah) and Sri Lanka (Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera), but there is only one Sri Lankan bowler (Herath) compared to three from Pakistan (Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman, and Umar Gul).

In ODIs, Pakistan have three bowlers in the top 20 (Ajmal, Mohammad Hafeez and Shahid Afridi) but only one batsman (Umar Akmal), while Sri Lanka have three batsmen (Sangakkara, Dilshan, and Jayawardene) but not a single bowler. If you go by the adage that Tests are won by bowlers and ODIs are won by batsmen, Pakistan should take the Test series while Sri Lanka pocket the ODIs. Meanwhile the T20s, which are increasingly emerging as a battle of all-round ability, could be anybody's rubber.

For Whatmore it is almost a set-up, albeit an unintentional one: if he replicates Mohsin's fine record, he will get a share of the credit, but anything less could fetch him a boatload of blame

Pakistan are driven to excel in all three formats, but especially so in Tests, where there is no dearth of incentives. Perhaps the biggest motivator has nothing to do with Sri Lanka at all, but with her neighbour a short boat ride to the north. If Pakistan complete a 3-0 whitewash of the Test series, they will displace India to become fourth in the ICC Test rankings. The joy this will unleash cannot be overestimated. While a 3-0 sweep against a tough opponent may sound a bit far-fetched, it has happened before for Pakistan and not too long ago either.

It is quite fitting that Whatmore's inaugural Test assignment with Pakistan should be a tour of Sri Lanka, the land of his birth, and of the World Cup-winning team with which he made his name as a coach of great professional commitment and nous. Whatmore is one of the most competent coaches in the business, but it remains to be seen whether his chemistry with ever-volatile Pakistan will generate storms and sparks or serenity and success.

It doesn't help that going into this series he finds himself in an impossible situation with regards to expectations. Even victory in each of the three Tests will only equal what his predecessor, Mohsin Khan, has already achieved against a better-ranked side. You can argue that Mohsin may not have had much to do with it, but he gets the credit nonetheless. For Whatmore it is almost a set-up, albeit an unintentional one: if he replicates Mohsin's fine record, he will get a share of the credit, but anything less could fetch him a boatload of blame.

Pakistan's touring party includes a balanced mix of stalwarts and peripherals, along with a handful of exciting prospects, and a couple of discarded names who are making a comeback. Everyone is going to be closely followed, but perhaps the person under closest scrutiny will be Azhar Ali. For the last few years Pakistan's line of batting heroes appeared to have dried up after Younis, who made his debut in 2000. Unlike other recent batsmen from Pakistan, Azhar is one who is starting to inspire genuine confidence at the crease. In 21 Tests he has an average over 43, with 13 fifties and two hundreds, including a brilliant match-winning 157 in his last innings. This outing in Sri Lanka could confirm if he is indeed destined to become one of Pakistan's authentic batting greats.

The battle officially kicks off with the first of two T20 internationals on June 1, to be followed by five ODIs and three Tests. Pakistan's last international match was the Asia Cup final in Dhaka in March, and their last Test match was against England in February in Dubai. For the country's untold cricket-mad millions, the first of June cannot arrive quickly enough.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • POSTED BY on | June 4, 2012, 15:59 GMT

    "one-up on India"? We did have Asia Cup 2012, World Cup 2011 for that isn't it? This is the weakest Pakistan team in past 40 years, let's have 7 ODI, 5 Test, 3 T2o matches tour! Best time to play them and improve some records.

  • POSTED BY Sinhaya on | June 4, 2012, 11:35 GMT

    Remember Sri Lanka can win test matches without Murali and that was why we beat South Africa and England recently.

  • POSTED BY Sinhaya on | June 4, 2012, 11:34 GMT

    @S.Jagernath, Sri Lankan pitches are not flat beds like Indian ones. Galle is the really testing pitch. Hambantota as seen by the 2 T20s was a good test too. You are wrong. Indian pitches are way too dead flat.

  • POSTED BY g.narsimha on | June 4, 2012, 10:43 GMT

    NADEEM KHAALID QURAISHI -LOL Idont think u r not remembering what was u r score line in AUS, ENG last time u r team visited there , AUS-3-0, 5-0 , ENG-3-1 , i dont think there is huge defference , so before reminding us pl look in to u r own stats out side ASIA -BILALCHOUDURY- Really see where u r team used to thrash IND in 80s-90s , that in this place the moment matches in SHARJAAH banned by ICC reasons known to all, u r wins over IND dried out , U A E is more than home for u people becouse affairs right from logistics to administration is being looked out by PAKISTAANIS so dont say uae is ALIAN to u u may be missing home crowd .

  • POSTED BY Bilal_Choudry on | June 3, 2012, 12:37 GMT

    @Siddharth Katragadda Oh come on mate ... if we take away home series from a team .. how many teams would perform like pakistan ? ... give credit where it is due remember pakistan beat england on a NEUTRAL venue .. Pakistan also drew with Australia on a neutral venue

  • POSTED BY Syed_imran_abbas on | June 2, 2012, 14:09 GMT

    lets see.. He may not be very talented but i like his commitment and patience.

  • POSTED BY mk49_van on | June 2, 2012, 3:49 GMT

    If only they could bat - Pak might have beaten SL. But SL at home with a weak batting line up.... Fuhgeddaboutit

  • POSTED BY nlambda on | June 1, 2012, 22:19 GMT

    They also had a chance to go one-up on India in the WC semi-final :-). That said our players are focused on making money in T20s, so would not be surprised if Pak overtakes us sometime in the next year. Still cannot forget how Sehwag and Gambhir hid their injuries to play in 2011 IPL and then pulled out of the Eng series.

  • POSTED BY on | June 1, 2012, 21:52 GMT

    @Siddharth Katragadda, indeed! Perhaps if Pakistan were to go out of UAE and lose 4-0 to England in England, and then 4-0 to Australia in Australia, you would rank them much higher and would not mind them taking their good rankings to heart eh?

  • POSTED BY skepticaloptimist on | June 1, 2012, 17:49 GMT

    Well, I'm an Indian and I would wish Pakistan all the luck in this Test series and I wouldn't mind if they replace India in the rankings. However, if that's the motivation for Pakistan to do well, I must admit, I'm extremely disappointed (and flattered, too, to an extent). Contrary to what the author is proposing, I think Pakistan would want to excel just because they are a talented bunch who'll want to do justice to their abilities.

  • POSTED BY on | June 4, 2012, 15:59 GMT

    "one-up on India"? We did have Asia Cup 2012, World Cup 2011 for that isn't it? This is the weakest Pakistan team in past 40 years, let's have 7 ODI, 5 Test, 3 T2o matches tour! Best time to play them and improve some records.

  • POSTED BY Sinhaya on | June 4, 2012, 11:35 GMT

    Remember Sri Lanka can win test matches without Murali and that was why we beat South Africa and England recently.

  • POSTED BY Sinhaya on | June 4, 2012, 11:34 GMT

    @S.Jagernath, Sri Lankan pitches are not flat beds like Indian ones. Galle is the really testing pitch. Hambantota as seen by the 2 T20s was a good test too. You are wrong. Indian pitches are way too dead flat.

  • POSTED BY g.narsimha on | June 4, 2012, 10:43 GMT

    NADEEM KHAALID QURAISHI -LOL Idont think u r not remembering what was u r score line in AUS, ENG last time u r team visited there , AUS-3-0, 5-0 , ENG-3-1 , i dont think there is huge defference , so before reminding us pl look in to u r own stats out side ASIA -BILALCHOUDURY- Really see where u r team used to thrash IND in 80s-90s , that in this place the moment matches in SHARJAAH banned by ICC reasons known to all, u r wins over IND dried out , U A E is more than home for u people becouse affairs right from logistics to administration is being looked out by PAKISTAANIS so dont say uae is ALIAN to u u may be missing home crowd .

  • POSTED BY Bilal_Choudry on | June 3, 2012, 12:37 GMT

    @Siddharth Katragadda Oh come on mate ... if we take away home series from a team .. how many teams would perform like pakistan ? ... give credit where it is due remember pakistan beat england on a NEUTRAL venue .. Pakistan also drew with Australia on a neutral venue

  • POSTED BY Syed_imran_abbas on | June 2, 2012, 14:09 GMT

    lets see.. He may not be very talented but i like his commitment and patience.

  • POSTED BY mk49_van on | June 2, 2012, 3:49 GMT

    If only they could bat - Pak might have beaten SL. But SL at home with a weak batting line up.... Fuhgeddaboutit

  • POSTED BY nlambda on | June 1, 2012, 22:19 GMT

    They also had a chance to go one-up on India in the WC semi-final :-). That said our players are focused on making money in T20s, so would not be surprised if Pak overtakes us sometime in the next year. Still cannot forget how Sehwag and Gambhir hid their injuries to play in 2011 IPL and then pulled out of the Eng series.

  • POSTED BY on | June 1, 2012, 21:52 GMT

    @Siddharth Katragadda, indeed! Perhaps if Pakistan were to go out of UAE and lose 4-0 to England in England, and then 4-0 to Australia in Australia, you would rank them much higher and would not mind them taking their good rankings to heart eh?

  • POSTED BY skepticaloptimist on | June 1, 2012, 17:49 GMT

    Well, I'm an Indian and I would wish Pakistan all the luck in this Test series and I wouldn't mind if they replace India in the rankings. However, if that's the motivation for Pakistan to do well, I must admit, I'm extremely disappointed (and flattered, too, to an extent). Contrary to what the author is proposing, I think Pakistan would want to excel just because they are a talented bunch who'll want to do justice to their abilities.

  • POSTED BY khurramsch on | June 1, 2012, 16:56 GMT

    i dont agree with this talk that players get match wining practice from ipl bpl ppl or slpl or whatever. if this was tru india would have won all 3 t20 cups or in finals of all 3. last ipl was just before t20 cups.even this match most of league players didnt performed too well.

  • POSTED BY khurramsch on | June 1, 2012, 16:55 GMT

    very poor from pakistans specially all the come back men, only ahmed shehzad stayed a bit longer. rest of them very poor. khalid latif havent got 20 over strike rate more than 100. you cant pick only on basis of bpl. sami failed as ever. shoiab malik always good in domestic for past many years but international comebacks very poor.

    afridi & akmal played iresponsibly as usual. umar gul was also expensive. pakistan should have played hamad azam or 1 more batsman. they didnt even bowled malik & afrid also not bowled full.they badly need a batting medium pace allrounder.

  • POSTED BY S.Jagernath on | June 1, 2012, 16:14 GMT

    Azhar Ali is a batsmen with potential to be of good quality in all conditions.Pakistan should also be selecting him in the ODI team also.Younis Khan is a high class batsmen that has produced all over the world but does not seem to get a lot of respect for some reason.The Sri Lankan duo of Sangakkara & Jayawardene seem to steal all the attention instead,although when Pakistan tour the traditional cricket nations(England,Australia & South Africa),Pakistan are expected to contend with truly fast surfaces,while Sri Lanka do not!Saeed Ajmal is a quality spinner but will have to work hard for wickets as the surfaces will be miserably flat during the test series.

  • POSTED BY YS_USA on | June 1, 2012, 14:38 GMT

    Pakistan has improved during the last 4 years while India has gone down since the start of IPL. YS from US.

  • POSTED BY on | June 1, 2012, 14:18 GMT

    Pakistan has only played weaker teams like Bangladesh, WI, NZ in the last 2 years. They haven't played Aus, India or SA (in SA)...the only good team they beat was England and that was in UAE. Unless they start beating better teams away from UAE, they should take these rankings lightly.

  • POSTED BY on | June 1, 2012, 13:27 GMT

    @AndyZaltzmannsHair, you forgot to complete the sentence, ranking does mean jack "on match day ", this is where the better mentally and physically prepared team with a captain adamant on discipline wins the game.

  • POSTED BY guptahitesh4u on | June 1, 2012, 11:59 GMT

    This will be the real test for Pak. They were good against Eng but the Brits were playing away from their home. We all know how good lankans are at home. So Lets c what happens.

  • POSTED BY on | June 1, 2012, 11:36 GMT

    i hope dey do wonders here 2

  • POSTED BY Natesan333 on | June 1, 2012, 11:32 GMT

    Awwww little baby wants to over take daddy, come here sweety, come on, you can do it. So precious.

  • POSTED BY on | June 1, 2012, 11:28 GMT

    even a 2-0 win of Pakistan will take them above india

  • POSTED BY on | June 1, 2012, 11:28 GMT

    Mr Shafqat, Plz be more learned in cricket! You are ignoring ICC annual ranking update which will take place immediately after the conclusion of Sri Lanka and Pakistan Test series which ends in Pallekele on 12 July. So if Pakistan wins this series 3-0 if will probably move up among first two/three positions (not just India) as the test match results before July 2009 will be ignored.

  • POSTED BY on | June 1, 2012, 11:14 GMT

    Lets not talk about our team will win and your team will lose. Both teacms have their strengths and weaknesses. but both of these teams have some quality players like Sanga, Mahela, dilshan, Malinga and the un-sung hero "Samarawera" and from Pak, Azhar, Younus, Misbah, Hafeez, Ajmal, Gul. So just see and enjoy the game of cricket. Good luck both of the teams.

  • POSTED BY g.narsimha on | June 1, 2012, 11:13 GMT

    amitgarg78-INDIAN like u around ,what can we expect , our team in the last few year had been to all cricket ing nation out side asia , winning in NZ, WI , draw in SA, ONLY 2 BAD SERIES IN DECADES , the last series loss to eng was a shocker , but it is cricket such things happen, than what happen to eng , 3-0 in uae, 5-0 in odis in ind wrong team selection cost us dearly in thoses places hope for better . TALHA SHAHJAAD - can u enlighten me what type of wichet on which ur team white washed eng with similar attack which could not prevent u r team a total white wash in AUS last they visited , wickets in this part of world are more or less same , if wickets in IND are dead tracks , they are same to visiting teams, it is not that ind bats on a dead pich & ofers a deferent pitch to visiting teams , as some one rightly remainded in this thread that the subject is PAK-SL u people as usual cant resist on ind bashing.pl concentrat on this series. we are also eagerly waiting .

  • POSTED BY umairasgharbutt on | June 1, 2012, 10:57 GMT

    pak gonna rock sl ;)))))))

  • POSTED BY AndyZaltzmannsHair on | June 1, 2012, 10:21 GMT

    Rankings don't mean jack, they lag behind current events, don't tell you the whole picture of why a nation is where they are and are often skewed by excessive.home series. This.is even worse for a team that doesn't play at home. I would sau Pak has the best Test team in the subcontinent, nut India still possess the best ODI team. And SL the best T20 team.

  • POSTED BY wrenx on | June 1, 2012, 10:17 GMT

    Think the test series is going to go 1-0 Pakistan's way, or 1-1. Taking on Mahela on his home turf is a pretty daunting prospect for any side, and if fitness/selection in SL remains consistent, then they will be real handful, particularly in the ODIs

  • POSTED BY Muttee on | June 1, 2012, 9:26 GMT

    I wouldn't say it will be 3-0 but Pakistan should be able to win the series based on the bowling alone. Good luck to both teams.

  • POSTED BY ani. on | June 1, 2012, 9:17 GMT

    what's this obsession with India..Test series is between srilanka and pakistan if pakistan whitewashes srilanka 3-0 then surely an achievement . forget about overtaking India

  • POSTED BY KP_84 on | June 1, 2012, 9:15 GMT

    SL didn't win in the '09 series, Pak beat themselves. It appears that they are determined not to repeat that mistake. Pak players have given the impression during press conferences in the build up to this series that they are determined to not take SL lightly. They have been quite generous in their analysis of the SL team. They have also suggested that SL will be more match-fit. In my view, the fact that SL players have played in the IPL means that they will have to battle fatigue, whereas Pak will be fresh after a two month break. Though I hope I'm wrong, I fear that the Pak pacemen will destroy the Lankan line-up (as has happened in most series between the two sides in the past).

  • POSTED BY on | June 1, 2012, 9:09 GMT

    don,t forget that we are only playing with 1 fast bowler ie umar gull as no other fast bowler even cheema was unable to get wickets against srilanka or england.

  • POSTED BY jimbond on | June 1, 2012, 8:40 GMT

    Right now, there are three better test teams than India- England, SA and Australia. And thats it for now. Thats what the rankings say; and rankings are meant to reflect quality. If and when Pakistan gets more points in the rankings, it will be considered as a better team. Best to wait till that moment.

  • POSTED BY on | June 1, 2012, 8:18 GMT

    well even if pak float down india then they will play tests on there dead soil to take lead in rankings.......Cheers!!!!!

  • POSTED BY amitgarg78 on | June 1, 2012, 8:01 GMT

    What's with this India focus? Pakistan plays Lanka and the joy will be to move above India? India has been absolutely pathetic in recent times and deserve not to to be amongst the top teams!

  • POSTED BY on | June 1, 2012, 7:39 GMT

    LOL..SL will white wash pakistan

  • POSTED BY Naveed85 on | June 1, 2012, 7:36 GMT

    agree with writer it will be great joy if pakistan whitewash srilanka and notch past india in ICC Test rankings . Pakistan no.6 in odis and india no.3 .. can 5-0 will take Pakistan no. 3 in odis ?

  • POSTED BY on | June 1, 2012, 7:29 GMT

    desperately wanna see Pakistan overtake India in the test rankings :) have faith, Insh'Allah the green army can do it :)

  • POSTED BY on | June 1, 2012, 6:51 GMT

    Best of luck to Pakistan on their trip to SriLanka, in one day and t20 matches no past record counts Its the team that plays better on that day only wins and Test matches Pakistan is far stronger than SriLanka Any way lets hope the best team wins inshallah. Javed Sani Los-Angeles USA.

  • POSTED BY on | June 1, 2012, 6:31 GMT

    well stability in No:3 was there when younus khan used to bat at this position so saying that azhar ali brings stability is not a complete truth

  • POSTED BY agoramoorthy on | June 1, 2012, 6:16 GMT

    Although srilankan bowling is weak in tests, it is not possible to take 20 SL wickets if the pitch is flat... so i don't think 3-0 is that easy.. people here talking about demoting india in rankings.. don't forget we are going to play 10 tests in coming months at home.. write us off in your own peril....

  • POSTED BY on | June 1, 2012, 6:09 GMT

    nice grey kit looks nice good change Pak should win

  • POSTED BY on | June 1, 2012, 4:53 GMT

    pak will white wash the test series.....

  • POSTED BY grizzle on | June 1, 2012, 3:50 GMT

    Though it is unlikely to happen, it would be great if Pakistan were to whitewash Sri Lanka and hence move India a notch down in the Test rankings. Would serve the Indian establishment right for the importance they give Test cricket. Even if it doesn't happen this series, it will soon. With committed (though still learning) batsmen and an actual bowling attack, Pakistan are a better test outfit, period.

  • POSTED BY Zahidsaltin on | June 1, 2012, 3:27 GMT

    It is Azhar Ali who has brought change in Pakistan's fortunes. A stability at no. 3 makes a hell of lot of difference in how an innings folds out.

  • POSTED BY Jarr30 on | June 1, 2012, 3:10 GMT

    Pakistan 3-0 against Sri Lanka??? hahahaaa NICE JOKE SAAD.

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  • POSTED BY Jarr30 on | June 1, 2012, 3:10 GMT

    Pakistan 3-0 against Sri Lanka??? hahahaaa NICE JOKE SAAD.

  • POSTED BY Zahidsaltin on | June 1, 2012, 3:27 GMT

    It is Azhar Ali who has brought change in Pakistan's fortunes. A stability at no. 3 makes a hell of lot of difference in how an innings folds out.

  • POSTED BY grizzle on | June 1, 2012, 3:50 GMT

    Though it is unlikely to happen, it would be great if Pakistan were to whitewash Sri Lanka and hence move India a notch down in the Test rankings. Would serve the Indian establishment right for the importance they give Test cricket. Even if it doesn't happen this series, it will soon. With committed (though still learning) batsmen and an actual bowling attack, Pakistan are a better test outfit, period.

  • POSTED BY on | June 1, 2012, 4:53 GMT

    pak will white wash the test series.....

  • POSTED BY on | June 1, 2012, 6:09 GMT

    nice grey kit looks nice good change Pak should win

  • POSTED BY agoramoorthy on | June 1, 2012, 6:16 GMT

    Although srilankan bowling is weak in tests, it is not possible to take 20 SL wickets if the pitch is flat... so i don't think 3-0 is that easy.. people here talking about demoting india in rankings.. don't forget we are going to play 10 tests in coming months at home.. write us off in your own peril....

  • POSTED BY on | June 1, 2012, 6:31 GMT

    well stability in No:3 was there when younus khan used to bat at this position so saying that azhar ali brings stability is not a complete truth

  • POSTED BY on | June 1, 2012, 6:51 GMT

    Best of luck to Pakistan on their trip to SriLanka, in one day and t20 matches no past record counts Its the team that plays better on that day only wins and Test matches Pakistan is far stronger than SriLanka Any way lets hope the best team wins inshallah. Javed Sani Los-Angeles USA.

  • POSTED BY on | June 1, 2012, 7:29 GMT

    desperately wanna see Pakistan overtake India in the test rankings :) have faith, Insh'Allah the green army can do it :)

  • POSTED BY Naveed85 on | June 1, 2012, 7:36 GMT

    agree with writer it will be great joy if pakistan whitewash srilanka and notch past india in ICC Test rankings . Pakistan no.6 in odis and india no.3 .. can 5-0 will take Pakistan no. 3 in odis ?