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November 22, 2011
The answer lies in the batting numbers: since the World Cup final, Sri Lanka's top order, with one notable exception, has endured significant drops in their batting averages. The captain Tillakaratne Dilshan has been the biggest offender, scoring 267 runs at a pitiful average of 17.80. Kumar Sangakkara and Upul Tharanga have also been poor imitations of their usual pace-setting selves at the top of the order, while Angelo Mathews is going through his worst phase since emerging as a world-class allrounder.
Mahela Jayawardene is the one man who has managed to steer clear of the Sri Lankan batting nadir. He delivered them their only win in this series with a sparkling half-century in the second game. Jayawardene won't be playing Wednesday's dead rubber because of a knee injury.
Sri Lanka's chances of a face-saving win are further blighted by the prime form of the Pakistan bowling unit. Saeed Ajmal is among the most dangerous offspinners going around now, while Mohammad Hafeez adds another dimension with his mix of straight ones and straighter ones. Umar Gul has been exemplary with the new ball, while Aizaz Cheema has shown that he belongs at this level. Pakistan's worries, if any, will be on the batting front too. But if their bowlers continue to be unplayable, it won't matter. And if all else fails, they still have Shahid Afridi.
Watch out for …
Lasith Malinga has largely been off the boil in this series. His six wickets have come at nearly five runs per over, and three of those dismissals came in a single match-winning effort. Given how patchy Pakistan's batting form has been thus far in the series, he will be targeting their toes on Wednesday. Can his yorkers provide Sri Lanka some succour?
Pakistan (possible): 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Imran Farhat, 3 Younis Khan, 4 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 5 Umar Akmal, 6 Abdul Razzaq/Shoaib Malik, 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 9 Umar Gul/Junai Khan, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Aizaz Cheema
Jayawardene's absence could pave the way for Dimuth Karunaratne's inclusion in the Sri Lankan XI, unless Chamara Silva is ready to play after being called up two days ahead of the game. Angelo Mathews' form is likely to be a huge worry, but Sri Lanka don't have the reserves to afford him a break now.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Upul Tharanga, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan (capt), 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Dinesh Chandimal, 5 Dimuth Karunaratne/Chamara Silva, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Jeevan Mendis, 8 Thisara Perera, 9 Lasith Malinga, 10 Seekkuge Prasanna, 11 Dilhara Fernando
Stats and trivia
"When you have a good atmosphere around you, then you try your best to deliver. I was overjoyed by the support in Sharjah where they cheered my singles, so I was happy to put my head down initially."
An adoring crowd can make Shahid Afridi do anything, even bat sensibly
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