Sri Lanka v Pakistan, 1st Test, Galle June 21, 2012

Pressure on Pakistan's brittle batting

Pakistan undoubtedly have the stronger bowling attack, but their tendency to self-destruct on the batting front provides Sri Lanka with a distinct advantage

Pakistan came into the ODI series with an excellent record in Sri Lanka and the added advantage of a 4-1 series win in their previous clash with Sri Lanka. Despite a strong start in the first ODI in Pallekele, they slipped back into familiar territory - that of the batting collapse. In the fourth ODI, they were on course for a comfortable win until they shockingly lost six wickets for just ten runs. In the final ODI, their bowling leaked runs in the final overs and handed the game to Sri Lanka, who looked down and out at one stage. Pakistan are not strangers to batting failures. Twice, in the first two Tests on their previous tour of Sri Lanka, Pakistan squandered excellent chances by getting bowled out cheaply. In their recent series against England, Pakistan batted poorly but came out on top primarily because of their outstanding spin attack. Although Sri Lanka's bowling is less potent compared to Pakistan's, the visitors' tendency to fold under pressure gives Sri Lanka the edge.

Sri Lanka themselves have been beset with bowling problems since the retirement of Muttiah Muralitharan. Muralitharan's remarkable bowling more often than not ensured comfortable wins for Sri Lanka in home Tests. Between 2000 and Muralitharan's retirement in 2010, Sri Lanka lost only four home series. However, since his retirement after the win in the first Test of the series against India in Galle, Sri Lanka have struggled to force victories. They lost 1-0 to Australia and drew 1-1 against India and England. Between 2007 and the Galle Test (Muralitharan's retirement) in 2010, Sri Lanka won eight Tests and lost just one. Since then, they have managed just one win and have gone on to lose three Tests. However, their overall home record since 2007 is still far better (nine wins and four losses) than their away performance. In the same period, they have won two and lost nine away Tests. One of the two wins, however, came in the Boxing Day Test in Durban when Rangana Herath inspired a 208-run win by picking up nine wickets. Their overall win-loss ratio (home and away) of 0.84 since 2007 is well behind the corresponding numbers of the top Test teams.

*Stats in the first three tables exclude Tests against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe

Sri Lanka in Tests before and after Muralitharan's retirement (2007 onwards) *
Matches Wins Losses Draws W/L ratio
Before Muralitharan's retirement (home) 12 8 1 3 8.00
After Muralitharan's retirement (home) 10 1 3 6 0.33
Overall (home) 22 9 4 9 2.25
Before Muralitharan's retirement (away) 9 1 5 3 0.20
After Muralitharan's retirement (away) 9 1 4 4 0.25
Overall (away) 18 2 9 7 0.22
Overall (home/away) 40 11 13 16 0.84

On their 2010 tour of England, Pakistan were thrashed 3-1 and were bowled out for sub-100 scores on three different occasions. After the controversial tour, they have had an excellent run of form. Pakistan have played their home matches in the UAE and are yet to lose a single Test there. They drew 0-0 against South Africa in a high-scoring series and followed it up by beating Sri Lanka 1-0. However, the best was yet to come. They humbled the No. 1 ranked England team 3-0, as Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman tormented the England batsmen with their variety. In their two away series after the disastrous 2010 England tour, Pakistan beat New Zealand and drew 1-1 in the West Indies. Although Pakistan lost on their previous visit to Sri Lanka, they will be confident following their impressive display in the last series between the two teams in the UAE (Pakistan won 1-0). Interestingly, Pakistan are one of the two teams to register multiple series wins in Sri Lanka since 2000 (the other being Australia).

Pakistan in Tests since July 2010 *
Host country Matches Wins Losses Draws W/L ratio
UAE 8 4 0 4 -
England 6 2 4 0 0.50
New Zealand 2 1 0 1 -
West Indies 2 1 1 0 1.00
Overall 18 8 5 5 1.60

The problems faced by both teams become very clear when one considers their batting and bowling stats in Tests since 2010. Pakistan have a much lower batting average (27.96) in the team first innings (1st and 2nd innings of matches) than Sri Lanka (35.17). However, their bowling average in the first innings (29.56) is way better than Sri Lanka's corresponding figure of 45.02. Hence, the average difference (difference between the batting and bowling averages) is superior for Pakistan. The difference in bowling performance in the first innings illustrates the gulf in quality of the pace-bowling attacks of the two teams. As the match goes on, however, Sri Lanka become a bigger threat because of their spin options, but the presence of Ajmal and Rehman has ensured that Pakistan have a better bowling average even in the second innings. On the batting front, Sri Lanka are still slightly ahead of Pakistan (average 31.98 and 28.40 respectively) in the second gig. The average difference for Pakistan across the two team innings (-1.22) is considerably superior to that of Sri Lanka (-7.98).

Batting and bowling stats for the teams since 2010 *
Team 1st innings (bat avg/bowl avg) 1st innings (avg diff) 2nd innings (bat avg/bowl avg) 2nd innings (avg diff) Overall (bat avg/bowl avg) Overall (avg diff)
Pakistan 27.96/29.56 -1.60 28.40/29.08 -0.68 28.13/29.35 -1.22
Sri Lanka 35.17/45.02 -9.85 31.98/33.98 -2.00 33.85/41.83 -7.98

Sri Lanka have proved to be a very difficult team to beat in home Tests for years, primarily because their batsmen have dominated visiting attacks. Both Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene have been at their best on the placid tracks, which provide very little assistance to pace bowlers. Although the batting order has shown vulnerability in recent Tests, the experienced middle order is still a formidable force in home games. In Tests since 2010, Sangakkara has averaged close to 54 with seven centuries. Jayawardene had an ordinary run against Pakistan and South Africa but regained form with a classy century in Sri Lanka's win in the first Test against England in Galle. Jayawardene is one of only three batsmen to score 2000-plus runs at a venue and is the only player to do so at two different venues (Galle and SSC).

Tillakaratne Dilshan has struggled for runs with his solitary hundred coming the rain-affected Lord's Test last year. Thilan Samaraweera, however, has been Sri Lanka's stand-out batsman in the last two years. He was the top run-getter for them in the series in South Africa and has scored two centuries in his last eight innings. While Sangakkara has equally good numbers against pace and spin, Jayawardene has found the going much tougher against the fast bowlers. Samaraweera too, has an average of 44.53 against fast bowlers but a much higher average (143.25) and balls-per-dismissal value (299.75) against spinners.

Misbah-ul-Haq's absence in the first Test deprives Pakistan of an extremely consistent middle-order batsman. Since 2010, Misbah has scored 1176 runs at 58.80 with a century and 12 fifties. However, Younis Khan and Azhar Ali have also been in top form in the same period. Azhar, who averages 43.17 since the beginning of 2010, was also in excellent form in the recently concluded ODI series. Younis, who holds the record for the most centuries by a Pakistan batsman against Sri Lanka, has been far more comfortable against spinners (average of 93.85 and balls-per-dismissal value of 178). Taufeeq Umar made an impressive return to Tests and scored a double-century in the first Test against Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi. His form, however, plummeted against England, as he managed only one half-century in the series (average of 17.40).

Batsmen from both teams in Tests since Jan 2010
Batsman Matches Runs Average 100/50 Pace (avg, balls per dismissal) Spin (avg, balls per dismissal)
Kumar Sangakkara 20 1833 53.91 7/6 52.15, 105.31 56.13, 115.20
Mahela Jayawardene 20 1320 37.71 4/6 26.08, 62.80 74.22, 140.22
Thilan Samaraweera 16 1241 59.09 3/7 44.53, 97.13 143.25, 299.75
Tillakaratne Dilshan 19 1031 31.24 1/7 31.33, 42.75 31.00, 45.66
Azhar Ali 21 1511 43.17 2/13 41.36, 93.68 46.23, 143.00
Misbah-ul-Haq 16 1176 58.80 1/12 69.50, 178.00 51.66, 114.16
Younis Khan 13 1138 66.94 4/4 48.10, 97.90 93.85, 178.00
Taufeeq Umar 15 1055 39.07 3/4 43.06, 95.75 33.27, 88.09

In the 3-0 series win against England, Ajmal and Rehman shared 43 of the 60 wickets. Ajmal, in particular, confounded the England batsmen with his variations and most of them were all at sea against his doosra. Herath was instrumental in the wins in Durban and Galle (against England), picking up nine and 12 wickets in the two matches respectively. While both Rehman and Herath average over 30 in the first innings of matches, Ajmal has been outstanding with 35 wickets at an average of just 24.48. Both Rehman and Ajmal have significantly better averages than Herath in the second innings of matches played since 2010. In the third innings, Herath's average improves to 25.53 and is marginally better than that of Rehman's corresponding number. Rehman has the best fourth-innings average (15.58) among the three spinners followed by Herath, who has an average of 19.21. While all three bowlers have been extremely effective against right-handers, Ajmal is the only bowler to have an sub-30 average against left-handers (25.75). Overall, Ajmal has picked up the most wickets (89) and has the best average (23.55).

Pakistan and Sri Lankan spinners (since Jan 2010) - wickets, avg
Bowler 1st inns 2nd inns
3rd inns
4th inns
right handers left handers Overall
Saeed Ajmal 35, 24.48 15, 20.33 29, 24.96 10, 21.00 56, 22.25 33, 25.75 89, 23.55
Abdur Rehman 19, 37.84 9, 18.00 24, 26.37 12, 15.58 45, 24.51 19, 31.47 69, 27.43
Rangana Herath 11, 32.54 29, 30.44 15, 25.53 14, 19.21 51, 25.05 18, 34.16 64, 26.57

Galle has been a result-oriented venue for quite a few years now. Five of the six matches played since 2009 at the venue have produced a result, with Sri Lanka winning four of them (one loss to Australia). Both the SSC and Pallekele, the venues scheduled to host the second and third Tests, have a much higher draw percentage. While there has been only one result in four Tests at the SSC, both matches in Pallekele have been drawn. Galle has also been an excellent venue for pace bowlers - they have picked up 90 wickets at 33.32. Spinners too have done very well, picking up 99 wickets at 32.51. At the other two venues, which have both been high scoring, spinners have a high average (40.77). Pace bowlers, meanwhile, have struggled even more with 64 wickets at 50.76.

Madhusudhan Ramakrishnan is a sub-editor (stats) at ESPNcricinfo