Pakistan eye T20 crown to cap memorable tour
Saturday, August 1, 2015
Start time 1900 local (1330 GMT)
This tour is already Pakistan's most fruitful trip to Sri Lanka since 2006, and on Saturday, they will have a shot at sweeping the trophies. The visitors were always likely to fare well against the younger Sri Lanka players, but it is their dominance of Sri Lanka's big names that has defined the tour.
Rangana Herath was defused in the Tests, where Kumar Sangakkara was also muzzled. Lasith Malinga has so far been dismantled across two formats, and even Angelo Mathews' usually-prolific limited-overs batting has been quieted. Pakistan will be encouraged that they have done all this with a somewhat inexperienced side of their own.
Shahid Afridi now arrives at the final skirmish with a batting order in excellent touch, a bowling unit churning out wickets, and by a distance the better fielding side in the series. Add to this Sri Lanka's woeful T20 record at Khettarama, where they have lost seven matches out of eight, and Pakistan appear clear favourites so far as such labels are valid in matches featuring these two teams.
Sri Lanka's opening combination seems to be where much of their hope for an upset lies. If Kusal Perera fires as he did at Pallekele and Hambantota, Sri Lanka are capable of mounting a large total. The lower middle order has been consistently strong in the limited-overs matches as well, and now seems to have been bolstered by the return of Chamara Kapugedara, who on Thursday provided glimpses of the player Sri Lanka wanted him to become for so many years.
Their bowling is less sure. As brutally honest as Malinga has been about his own form over the past weeks, it seems unlikely that 48 hours will be long enough for him to rekindle his old fire. Thisara Perera turned in an improved display with the ball on Thursday, but he is quite a distance from his best as well.
(last five matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka: LWWWW
In the spotlight
The hosts are intent on discovering hidden gems from the domestic system and right now Milinda Siriwardene looks a likely bet to twinkle brightly, provided he gets a bit of Sri Lankan spit shine and elbow grease. His unbeaten 52 off 26 balls at Hambantota helped turn a good one-day score into a giant one, and his intelligent clean-hitting in the first T20 put him firmly in contention for a World T20 berth. What is particularly promising about him is that he is not just a player of flashy strokes. He also topped the first-class run-scorer's list in the most recent season.
Shoaib Malik's canny finishing has been vital for Pakistan right throughout the limited-overs series, and arguably, his best knock of the tour was the unbeaten 46 on Thursday. While Umar Akmal bludgeoned the bowling around him, Malik calmly collected runs into the outfield, and ensured he was there to assist Afridi in the final over. Another good performance would cap a rich series.
Malinga has suggested Sri Lanka are unlikely to change much about their XI, meaning rookie legspinner Jeffrey Vandersay is likely to get another outing. Binura Fernando's place in the side might not be so secure, however. There is a chance Sri Lanka will play Nuwan Kulasekara in his stead.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Kusal Perera (wk), 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kithuruwan Vithanate, 4 Dhananjaya de Silva, 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Milinda Siriwardene, 7 Chamara Kapugedara 8 Thisara Perera, 9 Binura Fernando/ Nuwan Kulasekara 10 Jeffrey Vandersay, 11 Lasith Malinga (capt.),
Pakistan are likely to play the same XI.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Mukhtar Ahmed, 2 Ahmed Shehzad, 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Shoaib Malik, 5 Umar Akmal, 6 Shahid Afridi (capt.), 7 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Anwar Ali, 10 Sohail Tanvir, 11 Mohammad Irfan
Pitch and conditions
The pitch will be similar to that used for the first T20. Scattered showers have been forecast for the evening.
Stats and trivia
- Sri Lanka's only T20 victory at Khettarama was against Pakistan, in the 2012 World T20 semi final
- If Pakistan win the match, they gain four rankings points to climb from fifth to third on the T20 table. Sri Lanka will remain the top-ranked team even if they lose, but their lead will slip to two points.
"Binura is a good player. He bowled well in the last match, but he doesn't have enough experience yet. Nuwan is a player I've played with for 10 years. He's got a lot of World Cup and T20 experience. He's someone we can bring into the side at any time. We don't know what the next pitch will be like. There might be a chance for Nuwan to play."
Lasith Malinga outlines the pros and cons of picking 20-year-old Binura Fernando over Nuwan Kulasekara.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando