x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Sri Lankans once again believe they can

Sri Lanka's victory on Monday has restored the team's confidence as they enter the third meeting with Pakistan on Friday.

Sri Lanka's cricketer Mahela Jayawardene, right, needs only 13 runs on Friday to reach 10,000 in his ODI career.
Sri Lanka's cricketer Mahela Jayawardene, right, needs only 13 runs on Friday to reach 10,000 in his ODI career.

DUBAI // Given the meek fashion in which his new charges succumbed in the opening one-day international against Pakistan, Geoff Marsh might have been within his rights to give his players a dressing-down in the dressing room.

Sri Lanka's listless display had followed quickly on from a Test series defeat, and the side seemed a pale shadow of that which breezed to the World Cup final in April.

The downwards spiral was not helped by the fact the players were in the throes of an ongoing pay dispute with their board, and Mahela Jayawardene, their best batsman, needed to check the fixture list to see where his next run was coming from.

Pundits had even started mooting the idea of a series whitewash for Pakistan, who were enjoying a spell of uncharacteristic calm.

Against that backdrop, Sri Lanka's victory in Monday's second match was wholly unexpected. Now, ahead of Friday's third meeting, it could be that the force is with them.

It might be assumed the turnaround was the result of a few choice words from Marsh, their new Australian coach. Not so, he insists, suggesting that his side just needed a gentle reminder of their capability.

"We just talked about believing in ourselves," Marsh said Wednesday.

"You have to remember, these guys played in a World Cup final not so long ago. They are one of the best one-day teams in the world, and it was just a matter of getting the train back on the tracks. If you are down on confidence, it can just take one shot to get it back."

Bearing in mind he needs just 13 runs in Friday's game to reach 10,000 in his ODI career, the 50 Jayawardene scored on Monday probably does not rank too highly on his list of greatest hits.

However, it represented a timely return to form for a player on whom Sri Lanka's success is usually reliant.

"At his age, he knows his game inside out," Marsh said of Jayawardene, 34. "He is a class player, and it was just a matter of time before he got his confidence going again.

"He failed in a few innings, but it was not like he went a long, long time without scoring. He is a great player, and his 50 was a fantastic knock."

For the first time in Dubai, Pakistan's supporters were outnumbered by Sri Lankans on Monday, but the balance is likely to be redressed Friday.

As such, the crowd will be restless if they have to wait for Shahid Afridi, the popular all-rounder, for as long as they did in the second match. Afridi belatedly emerged at No 8 in the batting order, but Misbah-ul-Haq, the captain, said: "We wanted to have Afridi at the end, because all we needed were singles.

"The run rate was less than six per over, so it was just a case of nudging it around. We wanted to get the runs required low, and then we had Shahid Afridi at the end."


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