PALLEKELE: Sri Lanka face Pakistan in the second One-day International here on Wednesday.
The Azhar Ali-led visitors pulled off a convincing win in the first match of the five-match series thanks to a memorable all-round performance from veteran Mohammad Hafeez, who took four wickets and smashed a brilliant century as well.
Sri Lanka are yet to come to terms with the retirement of their two stalwarts — Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. Their batting looks brittle at best, with only Tillakaratne Dilshan and Angelo Mathews providing any sort of stability. Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne have proved their mettle in the past, but still lack the consistency to be counted as threats by the opposition.
Where Sri Lanka can take comfort is their bowling. Lasith Malinga might not be the maverick he was prior to his injury but he remains a canny operator. Dhammika Prasad, Suranga Lakmal, and Nuwan Pradeep provide powerful pace back-up.
As for Pakistan, the appointment of Azhar as captain may have been baffling at first, but he is slowly showing that the decision did indeed have some merit.
His batting has been a revelation, and he has led with a calm head in tune with the way Misbah-ul-Haq led the side. Hafeez’s form in the previous match bodes well for Pakistan, though Ahmed Shehzad‘s poor form has lasted a bit too long for everyone’s comfort.
Neither team are likely to make too many changes just one match into the series, though Sri Lanka could certainly consider bringing in some of their other pacers after the lacklustre bowling performance in the last match. The extra speed of Pradeep could be useful to a team lacking firepower.
On the whole, the contest is evenly poised going into the match. Pakistan desperately need to win every match to qualify for the ICC Champions Trophy 2017, and Sri Lanka will want to use that added pressure to their advantage. But Pakistan are capable of a lot when their backs are to the wall; it is that unpredictability that will add a bit of zing to the contest.
SRI LANKA: Angelo Mathews (captain), Dinesh Chandimal (wicket-keeper), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kusal Perera, Upul Tharanga, Lahiru Thirimanne, Milinda Siriwardana, Ashan Priyanjan, Nuwan Pradeep, Thisara Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga, Sachithra Senanayake, Seekuge Prasanna, Sachith Pathiran.
PAKISTAN: Azhar Ali (captain), Mukhtar Ahmed, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Asad Shafiq, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Rizwan, Babar Azam, Sarfraz Ahmed (wicket-keeper), Yasir Shah, Bilal Asif, Imad Wasim, Anwar Ali, Mohammad Irfan, Ehsan Adil, Rahat Ali. (Agencies)