'World-class' Ajmal key for Pakistan
Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka captain, expects offspinner Saeed Ajmal and allrounder Shahid Afridi to be Pakistan's key players in the five-ODI series that begins in Pallekele on Thursday. He said Ajmal and Afridi were much-improved cricketers; Ajmal because of his controlled variations and Afridi because of his enhanced bowling.
"What makes him a world-class bowler is his variation and control," Jayawardene said of Ajmal. "You have the variation, it's always an added bonus, but the important thing is the control. Even Murali [Muttiah Muralitharan], why he was so successful was that he had the control. You create pressure on the batsmen. That's what Ajmal's been doing.
"Initially, when he came onto the scene, I don't think he had that kind of control even though he was bowling a couple of variations. The more he's played he has improved as a bowler. "
Pakistan's captain Misbah-ul-Haq concurred and said Ajmal was their "main bowler". "Whenever we need wickets, whenever we need to put pressure on the opposition, he just came and delivered. He is a really important member for us," Misbah said. "What's makes him so special is his variations, especially nowadays he bowls the doosra, a straight one, and a good offspin. He's got a very good temperament and he's got aggression, which normally spinners don't have."
Pakistan were superior in all departments when they beat Sri Lanka 4-1 in the UAE last November. Their dominance against Sri Lanka goes back farther, with eight wins in the previous ten matches. Misbah, however, wanted to look forward. "That kind of record builds your confidence a little bit but it's a new series and different conditions. You have to perform again from the start.
"It is better to take one game at a time to fulfill your roles as a team and try to play good cricket. First we have to focus on the first game, try to win that and play good cricket, then go game by game."
Jayawardene acknowledged Sri Lanka had struggled against Pakistan in recent times. "Pakistan's record against us speaks for itself; they have played much better cricket than us during the Asia Cup and even in the UAE. It's up to us to lift our game individually as well as a group and try and come up with game plans and execute them."
Pakistan and Sri Lanka came to Pallekele after drawing the Twenty20 series in Hambantota, where the pitches were not easy to bat on. The team batting first made middling scores and the team chasing was dismissed in the 90s in both matches. Jayawardene described the Pallakele pitch as "a very good wicket with lots of runs" and expected two good games. He did not rule himself out as an opener for the series with Tillakaratne Dilshan.
"We've got the option of me opening or [Upul] Tharanga. It's always good to have that option open and keep that flexibility to use against different opposition. It worked for us in Australia, we'll see how it goes."