Pakistan target upward push in ODI rankings
Saturday, July 11, 2015
Start time 1000 local (0430 GMT)
Pakistan have recently been whitewashed in Bangladesh. Sri Lanka's last ODI outing was that traumatic Sydney World Cup quarterfinal against South Africa. Both teams have lost key men. Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi have stepped off the one-day planet. Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene have disappeared over the horizon. These teams are not so much waging high-octane battle in the five-ODI series, as conducting experiments. Is Kusal Perera a viable long-term opener, for example? Or can Sarfraz Ahmed learn to transplant his knack of playing vital Test innings, into his ODI game, and where should he bat? What is each team's top attack? Which batsmen will take the middle order into the future.
The stakes are much higher for Pakistan, though. Presently ninth in the ODI rankings, they must defeat Sri Lanka to displace West Indies, and move up a spot. A proposed ODI triangular in Zimbabwe has added uncertainty to Champions Trophy qualifications, but a healthy margin of victory in this series would put a small buffer between them and the next team.
The hosts are coming off a dispiriting Test series, but have often rebounded in the limited-overs formats. Lest we forget, Tillakaratne Dilshan still plays one-dayers, and Lasith Malinga leads the attack. Along with Angelo Mathews, they are capable of rallying a young team to at least present a challenge to transitional Pakistan.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka: LWLWW
In the spotlight
With Rangana Herath omitted from the squad, Mathews said Sachithra Senanayake was Sri Lanka's premier limited-overs spinner. Senanayake appeared to have returned successfully following the remodeling of his action, in the series against England at home last year. His returns in Australia and New Zealand, however, were less encouraging. With Nuwan Kulasekara's experience also overlooked for this squad, pressure mounts on Senanayake to prove he remains a high-quality one-day bowler.
Who else but Yasir Shah? They tried to attack him in the Tests, and Yasir took wickets. They tried to block him in the Tests, and Yasir still took wickets. They tried a mix of both, Yasir's wickets still came. In the end, Sri Lanka only succeeded by tiring him out, at Pallekele. They will not be able to do that in an ODI. Even the batsmen who made big scores in the Test series didn't have him worked out. He is the hosts' top threat.
With Tillakaratne Dilshan back at the top, Upul Tharanga and Lahiru Thirimanne are likely to slot in at No. 3 and 4.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Kusal Perera, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Upul Tharanga, 4 Lahiru Thirimanne, 5 Dinesh Chandimal (wk), 6 Angelo Mathews (capt.), 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Seekkuge Prasanna, 9 Sachithra Senanayake, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Suranga Lakmal
Asad Shafiq suffered a groin strain in the third Test, but has now recovered. He will likely face off with Babar Azam for his middle-order spot however.
Pakistan (likely): 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Azhar Ali (capt.), 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Mukhtar Ahmed, 5 Shoaib Malik, 6 Babar Azam/Asad Shafiq, 7 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 8 Yasir Shah, 9 Anwar Ali, 10 Mohammad Irfan, 11 Rahat Ali
Pitch and conditions
With a little bit of rain around all across the island, there is likely to be a little seam movement at Dambulla. This doesn't mean the spinners are out of it either. The weather is expected to be fine.
Stats and trivia
- Sarfraz Ahmed's average as opener is 43. This is roughly twice his average in the middle order.
- Pakistan were blasted out for 102 the last time they played in Dambulla, in August last year.
- Angelo Mathews averages 53.69 from 42 innings at no. 5. This is again much higher than his average in other positions.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando