Depleted attacks face off in series opener
August 23, 2014
Start time 1000 local (0430 GMT)
Pakistan's rustiness was a major talking point ahead of the Test series, and it could be an issue before the first ODI as well. Pakistan's last 50-over match was the Asia Cup final in March. They lost that game, the second time they had lost to Sri Lanka in a tournament where they had beaten everyone else. They were both matches Pakistan could have won, but Sri Lanka showed a clear edge when it came to handling the pressure moments.
It is an issue Pakistan will want to address before the World Cup, and the return of Younis Khan seems a step in that direction. What this will do, though, is disturb a middle-order combination that doesn't seem to require too much tinkering. Pakistan have a decent set of batsmen in the ODI format, with a group of younger players - Ahmed Shehzad, Umar Akmal and Fawad Alam, who scored a terrific century in the Asia Cup final - settling in nicely among the more experienced names.
Younis' inclusion, in fact, could push either Sharjeel Khan or Sohaib Maqsood, or both, out of the eleven, and this is a sign of a team trying to arrive at its best possible batting combination. It isn't the worst problem for Pakistan to face. A bigger worry is batting depth. Shahid Afridi batted at No. 7 during the Asia Cup, and while he pulled out a couple of blinders, it still seems a risky ploy. Pakistan themselves seem to think so, judging by the fact that they played an extra batsman - Maqsood - at seven during their warm-up match in Moratuwa.
Pakistan's bowling is also a concern, without Saeed Ajmal, and potentially without Junaid Khan, the extent of whose recovery from concussion suffered during the second Test is as yet unknown. During the warm-up game against the Board President's XI, the pace trio of Anwar Ali, Mohammad Talha and Wahab Riaz went for 186 runs in 26 overs.
The batsmen who took Pakistan apart included Ashan Priyanjan and Thisara Perera, who both made half-centuries at over a run a ball. They might be vying for one place in Sri Lanka's eleven at Hambantota, while Lahiru Thirimanne, who captained the Board President's XI and scored a duck, is likely to play, considering he is Sri Lanka's vice-captain.
Sri Lanka see a lot of long-term potential in Thirimanne, and he illustrated this with centuries in both matches against Pakistan during the Asia Cup. But his form since then, in all formats, has been worrying, and it is also an issue for them that he tends to bat much better in the top three than he does at No. 5 - which is where he has slotted in for most of his recent matches. Perhaps he could open in this series, in the absence of the injured Kusal Perera, but he will need to score runs, one way or another, to justify the faith Sri Lanka have shown in him.
Thirimanne is only part of Sri Lanka's larger concern over their batting in the long-term, with Dinesh Chandimal also in the process of trying to re-establish his international career. Till the World Cup, though, they still have the services of the old firm of Dilshan, Sangakkara and Jayawardene.
Sri Lanka will need to sort out their bowling combination, however, particularly in the spin department. Sachithra Senanayake, whom they have depended on for economy over recent months, has been banned for an illegal bowling action, and the selectors still haven't made up their minds on Ajantha Mendis, who is out of the squad now but could well be back before their next series. Rangana Herath tormented Pakistan in the Tests and is part of the ODI squad, but Sri Lanka will probably use him sparingly, to manage his workload. Whether Seekuge Prasanna and Suraj Randiv will allow that remains to be seen.
Form guide(last five matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka LWLWW
In the spotlight
Tillakaratne Dilshan has been in sparkling ODI form since his return to the team after missing the Asia Cup with an injury. His sequence of scores in England and against South Africa at home read 33, 88, 2, 71, 28, 40, 86, 30. Pakistan will want to get him early, or their patched-up bowling attack could be in for a lot of punishment.
Younis Khan is back in Pakistan's ODI side after more than a year out. He was dropped for the Champions Trophy last year after a poor run, during which he averaged just 16.75 in 12 innings. He will need to make sure his numbers in this series are a whole lot better if he is to realise his hope of playing one last World Cup.
Upul Tharanga will rejoin Dilshan at the top of the order, with Kusal Perera out injured. Sri Lanka have a choice to make between batsman Priyanjan and seam-bowling allrounder Thisara at No. 7, while the spin attack will wear a new look with Senanayake suspended for an illegal bowling action and Mendis dropped. Lasith Malinga had an issue with his back and will undergo a fitness test before the match, but it looks like he will be fit to play.
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Upul Tharanga, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Lahiru Thirimanne, 6 Angelo Mathews (capt), 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Seekuge Prasanna, 9 Nuwan Kulasekara, 10 Suraj Randiv, 11 Lasith Malinga
In the absence of Ajmal, who is flying to Brisbane for tests on his bowling action, Pakistan could include left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar. Younis' return to the ODI team could be at No. 3, with Mohammad Hafeez moving up the order to open in place of Sharjeel. Junaid has been practising with the rest of the team following the concussion he suffered in the second Test, but in case he hasn't fully recovered, Mohammad Irfan could take his place.
Pakistan (probable) 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Mohammad Hafeez, 3 Younis Khan, 4 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 5 Fawad Alam, 6 Umar Akmal (wk), 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Mohammad Talha, 9 Wahab Riaz, 10 Zulfiqar Babar, 11 Junaid Khan/Mohammad Irfan
Pitch and conditionsThree of the last six ODIs at the Mahinda Rajapakse International Stadium have had no result, and a fourth, between Sri Lanka and New Zealand, was reduced to 23 overs a side. The forecast for Saturday isn't too promising either, with the Met department predicting rough seas and wind speeds of up to 70kph in coastal areas including Hambantota.
Stats and trivia
- Randiv, if picked, will play his first ODI since August 2011. In that match against Australia, Randiv was Sri Lanka's top scorer and top wicket-taker.
- Thirimanne averages 47.66 in nine matches against Pakistan. His next-best average against other teams apart from Bangladesh is 32.11 against Australia.
- The team winning the toss will have a difficult decision to make: teams batting first have won five matches in Hambantota, as have teams batting second.
- Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been neck-and-neck in their recent head-to-head in Sri Lanka. Both teams have won four matches each out of the last nine the two teams have played, with one no-result.
"The one-dayers will be different and Pakistan will come hard at us. They are a good side and we have to be at the top of our game."
Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews
"This is a good chance to assess ourselves since the World Cup is not too far away. Every one-dayer we play will tell us where we stand."
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.