Sri Lanka out to protect top ranking
Match factsWednesday, December 11, 2013
Start time 2000 local (1600 GMT)
During the last 14 months, Sri Lanka's Twenty20 matches have had a little more edge to them than most. They have been the top-ranked side since last year's World Twenty20, and with the next global tournament approaching, it is a psychological fillip the captain Dinesh Chandimal is intent on protecting. A 0-2 loss will result in losing the top spot to Pakistan; a 1-1 result will lead to a reduction of a ranking point but Sri Lanka will stay No. 1; and a 2-0 win will bolster their position.
Aside from the prospect of achieving the top rank, these two fixtures are important for Pakistan because they are their last scheduled matches before the World Twenty20 in March. There are key places in the top order and in the bowling attack that have not yet been firmed up, and the likes of batsmen Sohaib Maqsood and Sharjeel Khan, and seam-bowlers Bilawal Bhatti and Anwar Ali, will relish the opportunity to push themselves into the side.
A victory in Cape Town after three straight losses to South Africa will have bred some confidence, but Pakistan's squad is light on experience. While promising youngsters will likely be trialled, there is uncertainty about whether this team is up to toppling a consummate Twenty20 side like Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka will conduct experiments of their own as they seek a spin-bowling allrounder for Bangladesh. Chandimal had recently said Ramith Rambukwella was among Sri Lanka's best Twenty20 spinners, and while Rambukwella's varied offbreaks were effective on debut, he did little to allay his notoriety as an average fielder. His major competition will be legspinner Seekkuge Prasanna, who is fresh from a 32-ball 84 not out in List A cricket.
Several Sri Lanka players have also spoken of the importance of beginning the tour well, given the paucity of international cricket in the recent past, but Pakistan appear to be carrying the most momentum into the first encounter.
Form guide(last five completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka: WWLLW
In the spotlight
There is some thought that Sri Lanka's batsmen are weak against left-armers of both varieties, and if Junaid Khan, Sohail Tanvir and Zulfiqur Babar all play on Wednesday, as they did against Afghanistan, Sri Lanka will find out if there is an issue that requires addressing. Sri Lanka's batting unit has also had trouble adjusting to new bowlers in the past, and with plenty of young unknowns in Pakistan's squad, that is another theory the hosts can test.
Once the most feared limited-overs bowler in the world but lately an inconsistent performer, Lasith Malinga's spells have grown more expensive as his gut has grown more cumbersome. Malinga does not need to be hyper-fit to crush toes and send stumps careening, but given he has collected only four wickets in his last eight Twenty20s, a good series here might re-establish him as one of the format's premier stars.
Saeed Ajmal was rested against Afghanistan and he may replace Babar, who had an expensive last outing. Nasir Jamshed has been omitted from the Twenty20 squad, which means Sharjeel Khan is likely to partner Ahmed Shehzad at the top of the innings again.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Sharjeel Khan, 3 Mohammad Hafeez (capt), 4 Sohaib Maqsood, 5 Umar Akmal (wk), 6 Shahid Afridi, 7 Umar Amin, 8 Bilawal Bhatti/Zulfiqur Babar, 9 Sohail Tanvir, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Junaid Khan
Mahela Jayawardene remained at home for the limited-overs series, which means Kusal Perera is almost certain to open the innings alongside Tillakaratne Dilshan. Rambukwella may be preferred to Prasanna for the first match.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Kusal Perera 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Dinesh Chandimal (capt), 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Thisara Perera, 7 Ramith Rambukwella/Seekkuge Prasanna 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Sachithra Senanayake, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Ajantha Mendis
Stats and trivia
- Malinga averages 40.50 per wicket in six Twenty20s in 2013, his worst yearly average. His economy rate remains good at 7.04.
- Pakistan have only won one of the last six Twenty20s at Dubai International stadium
"We leaked quite a few runs against Afghanistan so we will have to be at our best to beat Sri Lanka and Ajmal's return will help that."
Pakistan captain Mohammad Hafeez
"We played really well in the last Twenty20 series. We're still No. 1 in the world. We've got two Twenty20s in this tour, so we've got an eye on the ranking."
Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chandimal
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here