x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 October 2017

Form book goes out the window now Sri Lanka have shattered Pakistan's invincibility in UAE

Paul Radley looks at five talking points before the start of the five-match ODI series, starting in Dubai on Friday

Sri Lanka cricket players celebrate after winning the second Test against Pakistan in Dubai. Karim Sahib / AFP
Sri Lanka cricket players celebrate after winning the second Test against Pakistan in Dubai. Karim Sahib / AFP

It feels like we have been here before. Not too long ago, either. Pakistan v Sri Lanka in the UAE? It should be a foregone conclusion, right?

Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga, two of Sri Lanka’s leading performers – as well as recent captains – are absent injured. Sri Lanka’s recent form in the format has been horrendous – the polar opposite to their hosts.

There are plenty of reasons, though, that the outcome of the five-match series, starting at Dubai International Stadium on Friday, is anything but a given.

Form book fails

If form is anything to go by, this series should be no contest. Last time they played, Pakistan claimed the Champions Trophy in stunning fashion in the UK. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, were summarily whitewashed by India.

Still, though, we have already has evidence in Dubai this past week that logic and history often count for nothing in cricket, after Sri Lanka completed a cleansweep in the Test series.

And Upul Tharanga, Sri Lanka’s ODI captain, says his side’s morale is high because of the Test wins.

“Pakistan’s recent performance in the one-day game have been brilliant,” Tharanga said.

“They have always been a good team, and we are missing a few of our main players. We have confidence, and the players have a lot of confidence because of the win in the Test series.”

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Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed is hoping for an uplift in his side's fortunes against Sri Lanka when they swap their whites for limited-overs green. Karim Sahib / AFP
Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed is hoping for an uplift in his side's fortunes against Sri Lanka when they swap their whites for limited-overs green. Karim Sahib / AFP

Bigger Tests

Fair to say, Pakistan were chastened by the Test series loss. Sri Lanka’s achievement was momentous: no team had beaten Pakistan in a full series in the Emirates before, and Pakistan has not lost at “home” – in either Pakistan, UAE or England – in the long format for 10 years.

The side looked to have lost some of its identity, too, with a muddled game plan that went away from its usual focus on spin.

Sarfraz Ahmed, the captain, is hoping for an uplift now his players have swapped whites for the limited-overs green.

“After the Champions Trophy, this is our first ODI series,” Sarfraz said.

“The guys are very motivated and ready to perform well. Hopefully we can continue to perform.”

Pakistan's Imam-ul-Haq in action during the Under 19 World Cup held in the UAE. Pawan Singh / The National
Pakistan's Imam-ul-Haq in action during the Under 19 World Cup held in the UAE. Pawan Singh / The National

Happy families

Imam-ul-Haq was always going to feel the weight of his famous name after he chose cricket as a career path.

When he showed great promise for Pakistan in the Under 19 World Cup in UAE in 2014, the first question on most people’s lips was: “What does Uncle Inzamam think?”

To make matters more complicated, the 21-year-old left-hander has been granted his first call up to the squad on the watch of his celebrated relative.

Imam has his work cut out to make his own name in the game, but Inzamam, Pakistan’s chief selector, is confident.

“If you say that he is my nephew, then the selection was tough,” Inzamam said. “But if you see the performance which he has given, they’re good.”

Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur, centre, during training ahead of the one-day series with Sri Lanka. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur, centre, during training ahead of the one-day series with Sri Lanka. Chris Whiteoak / The National

No Amir, no problem

In the final days of the Test series, Mickey Arthur, Pakistan’s coach, was doing morning shifts with the ODI players at the ICC Academy, before heading the 2kms across Dubai Sports City for the Test at the stadium in the afternoon.

Despite the long hours, and the inclement results, he appeared energised at nets. Perhaps it was because of the number of young, talented players that were around, unscarred by association with the Tests.

Usman Khan Shinwari, the left-arm fast-bowler who has his chance because of injury to Mohammed Amir, is one who Arthur is excited by.

“I’m looking forward to it, I think Shinwari is a very, very good bowler,” Arthur said.

“He has pace, he bowls well with the new ball, he bowls very well at the death. I think he is going to be outstanding for us, and he will certainly bring a lot of energy.”

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Win your battles

Pakistan had been so irresistible in Test matches in the UAE this decade because they were the masters of winning the key phases of play. That lapsed in the 2-0 loss to Sri Lanka.

Sarfraz is hopeful his players will be more in tune with the short, sharp nature of limited-overs cricket.

His opposite number is also warning his colleagues they must be on their mettle for the whole 100 overs.

“The Test team did really well, by sticking to the basics,” Tharanga said.

“When you go to a one-day game, it is a short period, not like in the Test. You have to win more battles, from the first ball. You have to be at 100 per cent all the time.”