Buoyant Pakistan aim for series win
Match factsWednesday, December 25, 2013
Start time 1500 local (1100 GMT)
Big pictureFollowing the first truly one-sided result in the tour on Sunday, Pakistan seem to have secured a marked edge in what had previously been an evenly-matched encounter. Their new advantage is down mainly to the arrival of one man.
On Sunday, Umar Gul returned from a nine-month injury layoff to provide the menace that Pakistan had lacked with the new ball, as well as control and experience with the slightly older one. Gul was not required to bowl in the death overs, but given the pace and accuracy he had achieved early on, he would likely have helped ease Pakistan's woes later in the innings as well.
Beyond Gul's own contribution, his early breakthroughs put Pakistan so far ahead of the game that Misbah-ul-Haq could reserve his best spinners until later in the innings. Saeed Ajmal didn't bowl until the 25th over and Mohammad Hafeez didn't take the ball until the 28th. This ensured a lower-order revival would be almost impossible, even for a team that bats as deep as Sri Lanka do now. Both attacks had been mediocre in the first two matches but suddenly Pakistan have discovered dynamism there. With the top order drenched in form, all parts of their ODI engine have begun to hum nicely.
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, have learned some valuable lessons in the series. In a brave new ODI world where 300 is the old 250 and the mandatory Powerplay induces caution, they cannot hope to restrict the opposition without taking wickets.
Exactly how they will remedy that flaw is less certain. Nuwan Kulasekara has found more swing than any other bowler in the series but he has not bowled tightly enough to deserve a bagful. Lasith Malinga's pace has dropped significantly and he no longer seems the penetrative bowler he once was, in any case. Sri Lanka's spinners have been well-placed to attack, but Angelo Mathews has not set them fields that would spark a collapse from the opposition. In all, they have persevered with a bland, cookie-cutter strategy in the field, and cannot be surprised that Pakistan have prospered with a simple, repeated batting formula. Even the one victory Sri Lanka has scored was due mostly to a spirited effort with the bat.
Fittingly, Pakistan are now one victory away from securing the series.
Form guide(last five completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka: LWLWL
In the spotlightWith a half-century in the second match and 40 in the third, Misbah-ul-Haq has reclaimed his place atop 2013's ODI run-scorer's list - all without having reached triple figures, which each of the other batsmen in the top 10 have done. In addition to his near-superhuman consistency, Misbah has also been a fine captain in the series, setting exactly the kinds of attacking fields that Mathews could learn from. Misbah has marshaled his resources expertly too, reading his bowlers and the opposition batsmen well. If his team can complete a series win, it will be a fitting end to Misbah's ODI year.
Conversely, Dinesh Chandimal has not hit an ODI fifty in his last 17 innings. Batting at a more favourable No. 4 in this series, he has made three good starts but has still seemed far from the bright spark that hit two one-day hundreds in his first six matches. There is talk at home that he has stagnated since those early days, and if he cannot make a substantial score in either of the remaining matches, that din will only grow.
Pitch and conditionsMathews has been fearful of dew all series, but he has finally admitted that batting first on a good batting track may not be bad move. Perhaps Sri Lanka can secure the services of Misbah's weather man, whose predictions have been correct throughout the series.
Team newsBilawal Bhatti seems the only weak link the Pakistan attack, and there may be a case for bringing Anwar Ali in. Besides that, it is difficult to see Pakistan making changes.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Sharjeel Khan, 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Sohaib Maqsood, 5 Misbah-ul- Haq (capt), 6 Umar Akmal, 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Bilawal Bhatti/ Anwar Ali, 9 Umar Gul, 10. Saeed Ajmal, 11. Junaid Khan
Lahiru Thirimanne remains in doubt due to a sprained right ankle. He had been replaced by Dimuth Karunaratne for the last two matches, but after Karunaratne's duck in the last match, Sri Lanka may look to give one of their young reserve batsmen a match.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Kusal Perera 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Dinesh Chandimal, 5. Angelo Mathews (capt), 6. Dimuth Karunaratne/Ashan Priyanjan/Kithuruwan Vithanage, 7. Thisara Perera 8. Seekkuge Prasanna, 9 Nuwan Kulasekara, 10. Sachithra Senanayake, 11. Lasith Malinga
Stats and trivia
- After 30 innings, Dinesh Chandimal's ODI average had been 43.08 and his strike rate 78. In his 30 most recent knocks, Chandimal has averaged 21.92 with a strike rate of 67.
- If Misbah hits 60 more runs in the next two matches, he will have had a more prolific ODI year than any batsman has managed since 2007, and the best aggregate in a non-World Cup year since 2000.
Quotes"You have to assess the conditions and the wickets first, and then decide on the combination and what we will do first. We need to play to our strengths, but we will rethink about our strategies and go forward."
Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews suggests a shift in strategy may be imminent.
"The way this team is playing, all the batsmen are in form and all of them have been scoring runs, and big runs. So the confidence is high and even if you are chasing, you remain optimistic and know how to build your innings, how to pace the chase. So hopefully, we will be able to bat the same way in a chase and keep performing like this."
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq has faith in his top order
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here