Sri Lanka seek boost ahead of Tests
Match factsFriday, December 27, 2013
Start time 1500 local (1100 GMT)
A series that at one stage seemed competitive has all of a sudden begun to feel like a one-sided one. Pakistan have been terrific with the bat all series before reclaiming their prowess with the ball, while Sri Lanka have allowed all areas of their game to slip. An eight-wicket drubbing to follow a 113-run loss does not bode well for the visitors in the final match.
On Christmas Day, Sri Lanka were ailed by largely the same issues that have troubled them in the previous matches. The attack lacked confidence and penetration as Lasith Malinga went wicketless for the second time in the series and Nuwan Kulasekara was uncharacteristically wayward. Rangana Herath's poise and experience has also been greatly missed, as has his indomitable spirit that has seen him script limited-overs comebacks before. Herath's replacement, Ajantha Mendis, is yet to get a game.
The batting has threatened in patches, but unlike Pakistan who have found a centurion in each match and made century stands a defining feature of their innings, Sri Lanka have not managed even one triple-figure partnership. The visitors' only win was a result of several modest contributions stacked together, but ODI history suggests piecemeal efforts only rarely result in victories. Sri Lanka need a top-order man to anchor each innings, as Mohammad Hafeez has done so prolifically for Pakistan.
Strangely for Pakistan, they have played safe, intelligent, formulaic cricket with the bat that Sri Lanka have not been able to challenge. Their attack has retained the flair that is the source of its menace. Saeed Ajmal claimed his best haul in the series in the last match, while both Umar Gul and Junaid Khan continue to bowl effective spells. If Pakistan can complete a 4-1 rout in Abu Dhabi, they will arrive in the Tests on a cloud of confidence, and will also have deflated the Sri Lanka batsmen who cross over into the longest format.
Form guide(last five completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka: LLWLW
In the spotlight
Sri Lanka do not have a Dale Steyn in their ranks, but even so, Mohammad Hafeez's turnaround in ODI form has been staggering. Having not passed 35 in his last eight ODI innings, Hafeez now averages 203.50 in the series, with 147 more runs than the second-highest scorer. Hafeez seems at peace with his rhythm at the crease, and has rarely been tested by the Sri Lanka bowlers. Given his significant contributions with the ball and in the field, he is a certainty for the Man-of-the-Series award, regardless of what happens in the final match.
Ashan Priyanjan has waited on the boundary in two series before finally making his international debut, but when he did, he made it count. Exceptional square of the wicket and off the back foot, first-match nerves did not seem to affect him as he progressed to Sri Lanka's highest score of the series - 74. If he can replicate his success in the last match, he will put significant pressure on Dinesh Chandimal, who has not hit a limited-overs half-century since January, despite playing in almost every match since then. The selectors have expressed confidence in Chandimal's talent, but if they have a superior alternative of the same age, they will not be able to justify Chandimal's inclusion for long.
Shahid Afridi has flown back to Pakistan early due to personal reasons, but in any case, Pakistan may be tempted to trial young players in the dead rubber. Seam bowler Anwar Ali has been sitting on the sidelines for the whole series, as has left-handed batsman Haris Sohail. They may get a game tomorrow if Pakistan choose to rest key Test players, with the Test series starting on Tuesday.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Sharjeel Khan, 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Sohaib Maqsood, 5 Misbah ul Haq (capt), 6 Umar Akmal (wk), 7 Anwar Ali, 8 Bilawal Bhatti, 9 Umar Gul, 10. Saeed Ajmal, 11. Junaid Khan
Sri Lanka will almost certainly retain Priyanjan, and perhaps Kithuruwan Vithanage as well. If the surface looks like it will be receptive to turn, legspinning allrounder Seekkuge Prasanna could return in place of either Suranga Lakmal or Kulasekara.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Kusal Perera, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4. Ashan Priyanjan, 5. Dinesh Chandimal, 6. Angelo Mathews (capt), 7. Kithuruwan Vithanage, 8. Seekkuge Prasanna/ Suranga Lakmal 9 Nuwan Kulasekara, 10. Sachithra Senanayake, 11. Lasith Malinga
Stats and trivia
- In addition to Hafeez' monumental series average, Misbah-ul-Haq, Sohaib Maqsood and Ahmed Shehzad all have averages exceeding 50. Sri Lanka's best average for a batsman who has played more than one innings is 40 - to Angelo Mathews.
- Junaid has taken ten wickets in the series, Ajmal seven and Gul six. The most penetrative Sri Lankan bowlers have been Suranga Lakmal and Thisara Perera with three apiece.
"I think Gul set the tone right from the start, getting wickets with the new ball, and everyone else is really bowling and batting well. A series win gives us more confidence and delight."
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq
"We didn't do very well in all departments. They played good cricket and were far better than us, so they deserved to win."
Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.