x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Pakistan captain spoilt for choice ahead of Sri Lanka clash

Whether Misbah-ul-Haq picks best team or tests youth against in Abu Dhabi game, Pakistan will lift trophy on Wednesday.

Misbah-ul-Haq, centre, the Pakistan captain, may decide to rest Umar Gul, left.
Misbah-ul-Haq, centre, the Pakistan captain, may decide to rest Umar Gul, left.

ABU DHABI // Dead rubber games, as the final one-day international (ODI) between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday is, do not often provide tangible motivation for either side.

It is a time to rest some players, try fresher ones, contemplate achievements past and challenges future.

But for Pakistan another win would cap off a year of progress with a move up the ODI rankings table. Although the side will only move up one place to fifth, it will be their first gain in over two years, a reward for a period since last October in which they have won 22 out of 33 ODIs.

"Of course that is a team goal," Misbah-ul-Haq, the captain, said. "We've been playing well for the last 18 months and through that we want to improve our ranking.

"Pakistan has never lacked for talent, it's only a question of commitment, focus and hard work. If we work like we have been doing, work on our weaknesses, then we can get better in future and be among the top sides. Maybe the consistency wasn't there earlier because some of the players were new and didn't have that much experience. But since then, building up experience, that brings consistency as well."

The keenness to wrap up a comprehensive result will, however, be balanced against the opportunity to give a chance to players who have not taken part in the ODI series. As such, Asad Shafiq and Junaid Khan may find a place in the starting XI, possibly replacing Imran Farhat and one of Umar Gul or Aizaz Cheema. Abdul Razzaq, dropped for the last game, will definitely not be taking part; a shoulder injury means he will return to Pakistan.

"It is pretty difficult for us but it's a very healthy sign for us to have such a good bunch of players," Mohsin Khan, the coach, said. "We will see and discuss with the captain about giving chances to some new players.

"We will see the pitch and whichever XI is best suited to the pitch and the conditions will play."

There are no such consolations for Sri Lanka. They have already lost six Test and ODI series under Tillakaratne Dilshan's captaincy since finishing as World Cup runners-up, and they will be without Mahela Jayawardene, their former captain, after he returned to Sri Lanka on Monday with a knee injury.

Part of the frustration has been that all reverses have been close ones; the three Test series have been lost 1-0 and two ODI series so far 3-2. As in the last two ODIs here, a young team has struggled to finish off games.

"It has been frustrating," said Dilshan. "We lost the England series with one bad session. [In] the Australia series we had a chance to win the last match.

"Again here we had a chance to win the last Test but rain came. In the ODI series we were close but we did not finish well. If we can correct small mistakes I still believe we can play good cricket."

Misbah, meanwhile, has added his voice to the steadily growing push for a resumption of cricket ties between Pakistan and India.

The two sides have not played a bilateral series since 2007-08 after political relations cooled between in the aftermath of the 2009 Mumbai attacks. But Zaka Ashraf, the new Pakistan cricket chief, is due to meet his Indian counterparts in December in a bid to ink in a series next year.

“Of course, we’d like to play against India,” Misbah said. “It’s a very important series for players and fans and always good fun to play these contests. The interest is high and I hope it happens because it is a great occasion.”