Where the game can be won and lost for Pakistan and Sri Lanka

Pakistan desperately need a power-hitter lower down the order ESPNcricinfo Ltd


Will Pakistan play Faheem Ashraf?

Faheem Ashraf pulled his side back from the dead in their practice match against Bangladesh, and Pakistan's lack of genuine hitting options in their lower-middle order mean Ashraf could come in as a power-hitting allrounder. Pakistan's run rate of 6.44 in the last ten overs since the 2015 World Cup is the lowest among the top eight sides, in matches against each other. Ashraf's innings in the warm-up game, coupled with his reputation as an explosive hitter who can bat with the tail, could inspire Pakistan to slot him in the playing XI, especially considering the high scores the tournament has witnessed so far.

How will Pakistan approach the first ten overs?

Pakistan are missing the big-hitting prowess of Sharjeel Khan, whose strike rate of 130.37 since the 2015 World Cup has offered them some of their briskest starts in the past few years. Without him, Ahmed Shehzad's lean patch, coupled with Azhar Ali's steadier methods have only offered Pakistan sedate starts in the first ten overs. Fakhar Zaman impressed with 31 off 23 balls on debut against South Africa, playing some crisp strokes against a quality bowling attack. Pakistan will hope he comes good against a Sri Lankan bowling attack that has been rather ordinary so far despite Lasith Malinga's return for this tournament.

Combating Sri Lanka's openers

  • In one of the few early-innings blitzes in the tournament so far, Danushka Gunathilaka and Kusal Mendis ran the Indian bowling attack ragged in the game on June 8. Though Niroshan Dickwella fell for seven in that game, his combination with Gunathilaka at the top, in Upul Tharanga's absence, makes for one of the most belligerent opening pairs in the tournament. Pakistan's bowling, on the other hand, has blown hot and cold so far. However, they came back strongly in their game against South Africa, through the early introduction of Imad Wasim and Mohammad Hafeez, who, apart from keeping it tight, picked up three crucial wickets between them. Gunathilaka, in particular, has been susceptible to spin in his short career so far - he has been dismissed by spinners in five out of ten instances - and if Pakistan have an eye on these numbers, we could see Wasim and Hafeez bowl more overs in the Powerplay.

  • Hasan Ali has not bowled too often in the first ten overs in his career so far, with his wicket-taking record in the middle and latter overs speaking for itself. With neither of the Sri Lanka openers likely to hold back, unlike in the previous two games, Sarfraz Ahmed could well turn to his side's leading strike bowler early.


Will Malinga regain form?

Malinga's figures so far in the tournament read 20-0-127-2, and the only wicket he has earned was with a classic wide slower one which Shikhar Dhawan sent down long-on's throat. While he has been a talisman for Sri Lanka over the years, he has only featured in nine ODIs since the 2015 World Cup, taking a wicket every 46.6 balls and conceded 6.16 runs per over. On his day, he is as significant a threat as it gets for any opponent, and there would be few better days for him to show his worth than a knockout fixture in a global tournament - a scenario Sri Lanka are known to relish.

Time to try out Sandakan?

Sri Lanka are the only side in the tournament to concede at more than a run a ball between overs 15 and 40, and it is partly down to their extensive use of part-timers to fill the fifth bowler's slot, and partly to all their fast bowlers leaking runs. Lakshan Sandakan's left-arm wrist spin, spoken of highly in the build-up to the tournament, now has its reputation enhanced by his absence in Sri Lanka's first two games. If nothing else, he offers a refreshing change from the three right-arm quick bowlers and Thisara Perera's medium-pace.

The importance of Mathews in ODIs

Angelo Mathews' ODI batting has been in a somewhat extended bull run since the beginning of 2014. He has averaged 50.08 since then, scoring as many runs in his last 61 innings as he did in his first 91. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that he is the glue that holds the Sri Lankan middle-order together, while also possessing the ability to accelerate in the final overs, where he has a strike rate of 13. Relieved of his bowling duties, Mathews shone in Sri Lanka's record chase against India, and holds the key to his side's batting fortunes today.