New-look Sri Lanka aim to unearth rough diamonds
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Start time 1900 local (1330 GMT)
Sri Lanka have more-or-less been the top-ranked T20 side in the world since September 2012, but no one will argue that it means much. T20 is the format most international sides forget about for 18 months in each two-year cycle. Sri Lanka are a full 13 rankings points clear of the next-best side, but have played only one T20I in the 16 months since winning the World T20.
But now, with the next World T20 in India on the horizon, sides are again dusting their T20 kits and beginning to put wheels in motion. Sri Lanka are taking the opportunity to experiment. Five uncapped players have been named in the squad, with captain Lasith Malinga seemingly intent on discovering one or two rough diamonds among them. Pakistan have played it slightly safer, but even they have uncapped left-arm seamer Zia-ul-Haq and rookie batsman Nauman Anwar in their squad.
Pakistan have outclassed Sri Lanka in both formats so far, but Sri Lanka have had their moments as well. with the young players often leading the hosts' good days. But with so much youth in the Sri Lanka side, Pakistan will like their chances of completing their third series victory on tour. Pakistan have also played more T20 cricket in recent months; they recently played Zimbabwe at home, as well as Bangladesh away, and their captain Shahid Afridi is coming off a Caribbean Premier League stint. A few low-key practice matches in Colombo is all the preparation Sri Lanka have had.
(last five matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka: WWWWL
In the spotlight
Nuwan Kulasekara was for so long the most consistent man in Sri Lanka's seam attack, bringing disciplined bowling and occasionally vicious inswing to the early overs. A decline in pace accompanied a loss of control, however, and he fell sharply away in the latter half of 2014. He has now been dropped from the Test and ODI teams, and will be desperate to prove he deserves a T20 place at least. Still 33 years old, and generally injury-free, he may see the T20s as his route back into the ODI side as well.
Mohammad Rizwan has been a revelation in the ODIs, leading a Pakistan fielding outfit almost unrecognizable from the side that bungled their way around the World Cup, while also producing impactful cameos towards the end of the innings. He did not have much luck in his only T20 international innings so far, falling for 6 in a match in which he also kept wickets, but his natural athleticism and ability to manoeuvre the ball makes him an exciting prospect.
With so many new names in the Sri Lanka squad, it's difficult to work out what the final XI might be. Of the uncapped cricketers, legspinner Jeffrey Vandersay and left-arm seamer Binura Fernando appear likeliest to debut. Chamara Kapugedara and Kithuruwan Vithanage are also likely to feature somewhere in the batting order.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Kusal Perera (wk), 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Chamara Kapugedara, 4 Angelo Mathews, 5 Kithuruwan Vithanage, 6 Milinda Siriwardene, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara 9 Jeffrey Vandersay, 10 Lasith Malinga (capt.), 11 Binura Fernando
Pakistan will consider playing left-arm spinning allrounder Imad Wasim, but he may find it difficult to displace Yasir Shah from the side. Mohammad Hafeez will also likely keep his place in the top order after picking up the Player-of-the-Series award for the ODIs.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Mukhtar Ahmed, 2 Ahmed Shehzad, 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Shoaib Malik, 5 Sarfraz Ahmed/ Umar Akmal (wk), 6 Shahid Afridi (capt.), 7 Mohammad Rizwan, 8 Anwar Ali, 9 Yasir Shah/ Imad Wasim, 10 Sohail Tanvir, 11 Mohammad Irfan
Pitch and conditions
The weather is expected to be fine and the pitch, full of runs.
Stats and trivia
- In 12 matches against Sri Lanka, Pakistan have won seven and lost five. Sri Lanka won in their only meeting in Colombo.
- Tillakaratne Dilshan needs 34 runs to complete 1500 T20 international runs.
"There's no domestic T20 league in Sri Lanka between now and the World T20, so we have to choose the players who have shown talent in the last season and work out whether they are suitable for international cricket. We'll try to work out which players we can take into that World T20, in the next five matches."
Lasith Malinga is keen to experiment with his team in this series.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando