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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Pakistan return looms large for Sri Lanka: Talking points ahead of Abu Dhabi-Lahore T20 series

A three match series between the two nations will be played firstly in the UAE capital before heading back to Pakistan for the final game.

Pakistan and Sri Lanka take their series into the Twenty20 format, with two matches to be played in Abu Dhabi before the third in Lahore. Francois Nel / Getty Images
Pakistan and Sri Lanka take their series into the Twenty20 format, with two matches to be played in Abu Dhabi before the third in Lahore. Francois Nel / Getty Images

Having lost their past 12 matches in one-day international cricket, including the 5-0 thrashing by Pakistan completed on Monday, Sri Lanka’s cricketers probably feel allergic to their blue, limited-overs kit at present.

They might be happy for a change of pace when they return to the crease for three Twenty20 internationals, starting at Zayed Cricket Stadium on Thursday.

They are without a raft of senior players, who have been overlooked for the series on account of their unwillingness to travel to Lahore for Sunday’s finale. But that might not necessarily be a bad thing.

Banking on support

The banks under construction at Zayed Cricket Stadium. Paul Radley / Twitter
The banks under construction at Zayed Cricket Stadium. Paul Radley / Twitter

After weeks of meagre attendances, hope springs that a vast number of people may actually make it along to the ground to watch these two teams over the next two nights.

Advanced sales have been promising. One supporter arrived at the stadium at 7am on Wednesday, hoping to get hold of a ticket. He had walked one and a half hours to get there. He was sent away with a handful of tickets, as well as his taxi fare home.

Abu Dhabi Cricket have been doing much in recent months to try to make their facility the centre of the city’s sporting community. Their latest scheme has involved reconfiguring the grass banks, at the boundary edge either side of the wicket.

The gradient has been halved, allowing them to extend the depth of the banks, thus increasing the overall capacity by as much as 4,000. The construction work is only recent though, so the grass banks are in fact just sand for now.

Absent stars

Upul Tharanga was on the Sri Lanka team bus that was attacked in Pakistan in 2009. Francois Nel / Getty Images
Upul Tharanga was on the Sri Lanka team bus that was attacked in Pakistan in 2009. Francois Nel / Getty Images

The third match of this series has been confirmed for the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on Sunday. As with the Pakistan Super League final earlier this year, it will be a rapid-turnaround, fly-in, fly-out tour.

Despite the reassurances they have been given, a number of Sri Lanka’s senior players opted out. Understandably so. It will be the first trip Sri Lanka’s international representative side will have made to Pakistan since the incident in 2009 that sent Pakistan cricket into exile.

Upul Tharanga and Suranga Lakmal were on that bus, which was attacked by gunmen en route from the team hotel to a Test match.

“I believe that every individual has his own reasons and one has to respect the decision that he has taken,” said Nic Pothas, the coach, who has also opted out.

Perera’s optimism

Thisara Perera will lead Sri Lanka during this T20 series against Pakistan. Francois Nel / Getty Images
Thisara Perera will lead Sri Lanka during this T20 series against Pakistan. Francois Nel / Getty Images

The overhaul of the Sri Lanka team means a raft of new faces, and a new captain, too. Thisara Perera get his first chance to lead.

He is the eighth player to captain, in one format or another, in the past two troubled years for Sri Lankan cricket, Perera himself spies an opportunity, and thinks a successful series could be “lifechanging” for new players who are unscarred by the one-day series whitewash.

“This is a good opportunity for everyone,” Perera said. “If we do perform well, this can be a turning point in their lives. I want to give them big confidence to do their best.”

Scary limelight

Sarfraz Ahmed, right, has experienced plenty during his short time as Pakistan captain. Francois Nel / Getty Images
Sarfraz Ahmed, right, has experienced plenty during his short time as Pakistan captain. Francois Nel / Getty Images

Sarfraz Ahmed might not be quite as new to captaincy as Perera, but he is hardly an old hand, either. And yet so much has already happened on his watch. He has won a global title, been whitewashed in a Test series, had a 5-0 series cleansweep in ODIs, and even had to make a call to the ICC’s anti-corruption unit after a suspicious approach.

He remains a picture of poise, but admits he has been slightly unnerved.

“Obviously I did my job of informing, and I was not scared when I informed about it,” Sarfraz said. "But I there was so much talk about it on the television that I got scared. But by the grace of God everything is getting back to normal.”

Amir available

Mohammed Amir was the first international player to be picked in the T10 League draft . Francois Nel / Getty Images
Mohammed Amir was the first international player to be picked in the T10 League draft . Francois Nel / Getty Images

Mohammed Amir is fit and available again, following the shin injury he suffered during the Dubai Test. But do Pakistan need him?

Hasan Ali, Usman Khan Shinwari and Rumman Raees all caught the eye during the 50-over demolition of Sri Lanka’s batting line up. They may be inexperienced, but they have proved up to the task.

“It is good that whichever players we are giving chances are performing, and it shows how much talent we have in Pakistan cricket,” Sarfraz said. “All the players selected are looking to prove a point. Shinwari came and performed.

"Faheem Ashraf also performed so it is good we have strong bench strength, and it has become difficult to decide which bowlers have to be included.”

PAKISTAN v SRI LANKA

Twenty20 International series
Thu Oct 26, 1st T20I, Abu Dhabi
Fri Oct 27, 2nd T20I, Abu Dhabi
Sun Oct 29, 3rd T20I, Lahore

Tickets are available at www.q-tickets.com

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