Sri Lanka v Pakistan ODIs review

Five lessons from the series

The ODI series saw the emergence of Azhar Ali, the success of Sri Lanka's flexible batting order and the fragility of Pakistan's fielding

Kanishkaa Balachandran

June 19, 2012

Comments: 26 | Text size: A | A

Opener Azhar Ali remained unbeaten on 81, Sri Lanka v Pakistan, 4th ODI, Colombo, June 16, 2012
Azhar Ali: A long-term prospect for Pakistan © AFP
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The rise of Azhar Ali
Azhar Ali may not take too kindly to being labelled a 'Test player' anymore. With a reputation for being a patient, stodgy batsman, Azhar had played just four ODIs and opened once before the tour of Sri Lanka. He managed to make fifty in his first outing as an opener, in the UAE against England, but didn't look an automatic choice for the starting line-up, with ODI specialists already identified for that position. An average of 33.25 in four innings was good enough to make the squad for Sri Lanka, but an injury to Nasir Jamshed gave him another opportunity at the top. Pakistan didn't send for another opener to join the squad. Clearly, Misbah-ul-Haq had seen something in him which others couldn't. Misbah wanted a solid player capable of facing the two new balls at either end and Azhar was his preferred choice. He didn't have to prove his ability to occupy the crease. The surprise element was his breezy strike-rate and ability to find the boundaries through orthodox cricketing shots. However, he tended to get bogged down when support wasn't forthcoming from the other end, and his more experienced colleagues were all culpable. Both his half-centuries came in losing causes. Nevertheless, Misbah was satisfied enough to term him a long-term opening prospect. At the end of the series, his average had risen to 43.75. Easily the biggest positive to come out of a disappointing series for Pakistan.

The weather
It could have been worse. The scheduling and choice of venues left many fearing multiple washouts as June is the month of the southwest monsoon in Sri Lanka. While the Twenty20s were played at the relatively dry Hambantota, three of the five ODIs were in Colombo, where rains were forecast on all three days. No games were scheduled in the dry zone of Dambulla. Pallekele had its share of interruptions for the first match, but it was completed within a day. The worst fears were confirmed when the first of the three Colombo games was washed out. That prompted Pakistan to ask for reserve days, which were granted. The fourth ODI too had an interruption but thankfully for the players and fans, rain kept away for the fifth. Bizarrely, the rain largely stayed away during the non-match days. One washout in five wasn't as bad as predicted, but it should serve as a lesson for the administrators when planning for future tours.

Fielding lapses galore
It was a routine at every press conference to see a forlorn Misbah moan about Pakistan's fielding. The ground fielding especially left much to be desired. Suffice to say it cost them the chance of squaring the series as the lapses were most embarrassing in the final ODI. Pakistan failed on occasions to get behind the line of the ball and time the dive. Sohail Tanvir's footwork topped it all. In a close finish, those extra runs were a bonus for Sri Lanka. Another costly miss was Umar Gul's drop off Kumar Sangakkara in the 4th ODI during his innings of 97. The cameras would regularly pan to the fielding coach Julien Fountain, embarrassed at what he had seen. Was it the rustiness of a two-month layoff?

Sri Lanka's flexibility
A factor in Sri Lanka's success as a batting unit was the flexibility in their options. Except Tillakaratne Dilshan's opening slot, none of the other positions were set in stone. Mahela Jayawardene realised that clustering the seniors at the top was a gamble, which didn't pay off at the start, so he set an example by dropping himself down the order and giving Dinesh Chandimal more overs to play himself in. Jayawardene said the players had been conditioned to be more flexible and adjust according to the match situation. The presence and form of the two allrounders in Angelo Mathews and Thisara Perera gave Sri Lanka the freedom to experiment.

The pitches
Another often repeated statement by Misbah was about the conditions, which seemed to have challenged his batsmen more. The trend of batting pitches seems to be changing in Sri Lanka, with even totals under 250 proving competitive. In the post-Muralitharan era, the pitches have had more grass and are harder. In this series, the rain has made it tougher for the batsmen, as was the case in Pallekele where the seam movement resembled that of the early English summer. As a result, it forced Pakistan to rethink their combination to the point where, for the final ODI, they let go of their best bowler Saeed Ajmal for the fast bowler Mohammad Sami.

Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by Udendra on (June 21, 2012, 8:51 GMT)

Conditions have changed in Sri Lanka. It's not only flat tracks anymore.

Posted by   on (June 21, 2012, 5:38 GMT)

definitely for the WC in Aus-NZ ,Lanka has the best chance to impress if not win the whole tournament..Key thing is to keep improving on fielding,Keep the two allrounders perera and mathews fit and also tell mahela to stay as CAPTAIN! :D

Posted by drdani on (June 20, 2012, 23:22 GMT)

@kelvinLTR-bro nobody is taking off credit from SL..hats off to their wonderful victory..they needed it badly after recent 3-4 series....i think the main factor in their victory was their belief,even after going down 1-0 !! as for my pakistani brothers,there r 2 views on the last 2 odis-pak lost those matches because of their laziness-or-pak lost those matches because SL stepped up at the right time----guys SL was also playing for a win :)

Posted by KelvinLTR on (June 20, 2012, 17:09 GMT)

"dropping Ajmal cost the series" seriously? no arguments he is a world class player but give Sri Lankans the due credit. They won it at the end, if you haven't noticed

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 14:03 GMT)

good but azhar is not complete batsman techically he not even 70% correct if u wana see complete player watch dravid jayawardene or ponting

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 12:52 GMT)

What pakistan lacks is a destructive opening pair... Is Imran Nazir still alive?? or is he left cricket?? Azhar ali will be a good batsman in test cricket not in one days. He have to play more shots .. His batting pace was a factor in recent losses. Nasir jamshid deserves more chances up in the order. mohd hafees's odi strike rate speaks for himself its just around 67.When you are chasing 200 or 300 you have to score quickly at first 10...

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 11:44 GMT)

I hope Pak need to change lots of. First need a good opener. Hafees one time good in the batting after 5 match he will not well in the team. So great opener is that team it will win any match. 2nd one I think No. 3 is the key position for the any team. Aus. Ricky and SL Sanga. So we found No. 3 and we need good all rounders. Some time pak is the is good All rounders. Ex. Wasim, Aamir, Azar mahmood, Razzaq, So we found new coumers. Then good captaincy. Nizam

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 11:19 GMT)

Simple as that: Pakistan has never been on the money on fielding. It's just that "THE DROPPING OF SAEED AJMAL" cost Pakistan the series.

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 10:13 GMT)

pakistan lost the series due to bad fielding and a ridiculious batting collapse!

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 10:07 GMT)

Afridi should be made the captain.. Misbah must have saved Umar gul for the last over..

Posted by Noball_Specialist on (June 20, 2012, 10:06 GMT)

Other jelly legged Man of Match dreamers doing Sajda on 50s need to start stepping up and play more consistently and with the vigour of proving a point.

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 8:46 GMT)

As of now,out of the 4 subcontinental teams,SL has the best chance to impress in the 2015 WC in Australia/NZ.That's because of the influx of seam bowling all-rounders like Perera,Matthews and even Kulasekara. As the recent results in Saf,Aus and SL shows they will be hard to beat in Swinging,Seaming and Bouncy conditions.

Posted by qaisaraly on (June 20, 2012, 8:20 GMT)

Azhar is a good cricketer and he should also be included in test squad..bcaz he has the ability to play both of one day & test cricket...

Opening is the main issue which need to be solved and new cricket should be given chance to come forward and the old cricket may now leave the cricket at his won...which would be in their favour...

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 8:16 GMT)

For God sake Azhar is not a complete player. He can't play pull and hook short at all how can a player can be included in the team who is not a complete player. This thing happens only in Pakistan. That is why in-complete players like Ijaz Ahmed, Saleem Elahi, Salman Butt, Hasan Raza has been playing for Pakistan. He is included in top 8 slowest players in world.. shame on Pakistan selectors.

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 8:02 GMT)

@ Haroon Syed i totally agree with you on this. you have pointed out key things quite nicely. time to re-Launch proactive, aggressive, confident, & most importantly bold & fair less SHAHID-AFRIDI AS CAPTAIN OF T20 & ODIs. you might disagree with the fact that After Imran khan now one led the time like him except Afridi. with limited resources Afridi not only able to unite the team but also raised the game level of players & bring back passion to Pakistan Cricket. but again when someone is on the edge to deliver outstanding results either he is removed or politicized. same thing happened with Boom Boom. when he settle down as a captain he was removed from captaincy with the planing & from where pakistan cricket lost its passion & now rating downwards again.

Posted by Fast_Track_Bully on (June 20, 2012, 7:07 GMT)

After the first victory of Pak, I told pak fans that this will be their last chance to celebrate...and the result proved it...pakistan yet to learn how to bat and field...u cannot win matches with a good bowling unit, average batting unit and a mediocre fielding..

Posted by khurramsch on (June 20, 2012, 6:08 GMT)

problem with pakistan were more importantly fielding. gone from bad to worse in this series. they cant hit run outs, they cant catch & this time they cant even stop ball. that was very poor fielding display.look at dilshan & his age & fielding- very brilliant. 2nd) balance in selection was not. pak need a good batting medium pace allrounder who can fill in 3rd seamer place & gives balance to team. going with 5 bowlers not good idea. 3rd) batting keeper to give strength to batting. afridi is bowling allrounder, so that makes ur line more thin.i think younas should quit odis.

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 5:32 GMT)

Yeah Azhar is a very good find in this trip but we must have to keep him at number 3 instead of Younis khan. Also we have to include Haris Sohail in middle order or some left handed batsman should be in middle order. Left and right hand combination will confuse your opposition. I am also agree that hafeez should be given rest now. We have to include Ahmad Shehzad or we have to bring back Kamran Akmal. Coz Sarfraz is not up to the standards neither in keeping nor in batting.

Posted by ReverseSweepIndia on (June 20, 2012, 4:44 GMT)

few reasons I think of Pak defeat is 1) Over Defensive Misbah. When we have good captains around like Clarke, Jayawardne (fantastic), Sammy (inspiring) to name a few Dhoni and Misbah are the only one in defensive category. And Misbah is poor in that too. 2) Bowling is other reason for defeat. Pak fast bowling is at poorest at the moment (don't compare it with us, it still lot better than ours lol, I just meant by its own standards ) 3) Fielding is other culprit. Pak never had been Jonty Rhodes, but atleast they can become safe catchers. Sohail's footwork, we had many from Zaheer and Munaf on our side of border but I do not remember even them dropping that many. On the positive side Pak has got their own Dravid or a Kallis in Azhar. This lad has a great future. On other side Afridi going to be like on way down. Batting has been poor from last so many years and now not much contributing with ball too.

Posted by satish619chandar on (June 20, 2012, 3:21 GMT)

Amla, Azhar and Cook(Now even Bell) are showing signs of how a batsman should be.. If you are steady and practice to include more run scoring shots, you can shine in shorter format too.. The yesteryear stalwarts followed that principle.. The guys in Dravid, Kallis, Chanderpaul were very comfortable in te two formats they played often.. That is what is lacking with the current corp of batsmen.. We see some very good potentially good batsmen like Umar, Chandimal, Kohli, Watson, Ross Taylor etc.. But crucial factors missing is, hunger and will to succeed for longer period of time and do it match after match.. Wish they get more serious about the game ant not think it as a job to earn money..

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 2:20 GMT)

I think the result of series defeat is because of many things.1) Pakistan follow srilanka by using fast bowlers instead of their strong weapon spinners.We did not give chance to A.rehman who bowl to his feild and it is difficult to score against him 2) Pakistani fast bowlers were erratic and did not use their variation cleverly 3) We droped so many crucial catches and our ground fielding and running between the wickets were poor 4) Our batsmen unable to deal with swing and bounce 5) Misbah's captainship was not innovative and bold 6)Last but not least is the differences and grouping in the team because of board innovation of changing captain just before the series.

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 2:18 GMT)

When Nasir Jamshed comes back, pair him up with Azhar Ali...Imran farhats come back was impressive, but lets not jump the gun just yet. AZHAR ali is a great find, very tech. sound, if he can only learn the art of making scoring opportunity, a bit of innovation, develop a good backfoot game on the onside(havent seen him pulling much),he can be a fine fine batsman.

Posted by Sinhaya on (June 20, 2012, 0:34 GMT)

Yes important that all international matches in May and June are played in Dambulla and Hambantota. July onwards it is dry and that is when many teams really visit Sri Lanka. Only 3 times before has Sri Lanka hosted international cricket in June. 2010 Asia Cup was entirely in Dambulla in June. 1998 Nidahas trophy (independence cup) was a 60% washout due to playing in June.

Posted by PakPacer on (June 19, 2012, 23:34 GMT)

Jyd faheem sarwar i was with you till you said Shoaib Malik. Have you not seen the ton of chances Shoaib Malik has gotten? He is a liability at this point. Hafeez should not open for us for sure. Nasir, when he gets healthy should open with Azhar.

Posted by   on (June 19, 2012, 19:34 GMT)

Another Clear difference is the difference in strategy. Misbah is clearly a defensive captain,but even in that role, he is out of ideas it seems. His approach to situations is predictable and reactive. Mahela just exposed Misbah for his lack of leadership in thinking by outdoing him in every phase and session of the ODI series. Mahela was proactive, innovative, bold and attacking when he had to be.Misbah on the other hand reacted to situation but never really had any proactive moves or ideas. Im not going to joke about Misbahs poor strike rate, he is a safe bet in the batting line up because of his temprament. But PCB needs to understand what modern day captains are,stop this mindset of the 90s, where the most senior or most reliable player becomes the captains, players with ideas,confidence and those who believe in themselves should be captain, rather than those who ACCEPT flaws,point to the teams rebuilding(for more than a yr now).That means no Afridi or younis khan,someone new.

Posted by   on (June 19, 2012, 17:49 GMT)

I think hafeez should be dropped......We need an opening stand from him,,,, we dont need his bowling.....his main job is batting.......pakistan is losing only because ,, hafeez is not giving good opening stands...............we should give chance to new talents like NASIR jamshed, Afaq Raheem etc..........and shoaib malik should be given chance

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