It’s Pakistan’s hallmark to start tournaments badly and with unexpected defeats. But it’s not their hallmark to lose their way after finding it. And after the last game it seems they have finally found their feet in the English summer.
When that happens, the Greenshirts, more often than not, set themselves up for deep runs at the very least. Now in their full stride and having turned things around, Pakistan do not get pegged back. The routine setback against India doesn’t count and the one that eventually knocks them out doesn’t either.
Of course, there exists a type of team that puts the brakes on a resurgent Pakistan side again but with all due respect, the Sri Lankans don’t fit that profile. Certainly not this Sri Lanka.
Although one of the most competitive sides in world cricket, the islanders have never really struck fear in Pakistan. Not even in world cups where the Men in Green are at times so there-for-the-taking that the opponents do not even have to try. Just ask the Windies who only had to show up and bowl legal deliveries. Pakistani batsmen did the rest.
Sri Lanka do not get such freebies against Pakistan, because as mentioned, they do not fit the profile for their finicky opponents.
The islanders do not possess tall pacers like the West Indies; they are not arch-rivals like India; they are not unbelievably good like the Australians; and they are not underdogs like Afghanistan.
Sri Lanka are a rarity in that they have managed to slip through the net of all the type of teams that can expose the vulnerabilities of Pakistan.
Not buying the narrative? How about the fact that Pakistan are 7-0 against Sri Lanka in World Cup matches. Not once have the Lankans been able to get the better of Pakistan.
Pakistan’s dominance over Sri Lanka is not just limited to the 50-over world cups. When in need of World T20 title in 2009, it were Sri Lanka that got beat in the final. And when Sarfaraz Ahmed’s men required a victory to stay alive in the Champions Trophy 2017, it were again the Lankans who made the sacrifice.
It absolutely won’t be inaccurate to say that without Sri Lanka, Pakistan would not have had any of their three major trophies.
What makes the matters even worse for Sri Lanka is that Pakistan’s remarkable record against them was made during their better days. The team’s current rendition is perhaps their weakest since the late 80s/early 90s.
Just to give you an idea: their best batsman is Angelo Mathews who has two ducks in as many outings this World Cup. They still have in their ranks and rely on 35-year-old Lasith Malinga, who by his own admission has been both physically and mentally knackered from cricket.
Their strength always has been spinners. And guess what Pakistani batsmen’s strength also has always been? Hint: it rhymes with “win”.
The Sri Lankans, for some strange reason, also always seem to carry an unusually large number of lefties. The current line-up has four. Pakistan also always seem to possess at least a couple part-time off-spinners. The current side has two.
From top to bottom, from past to present, and from stats to subjective observations, Pakistan are just a bad stylistic match for Sri Lanka.
In fact, the greatest threat that Pakistan have in today’s encounter is not by a Sri Lankan player but the biggest player sat above. If the heavens open up, of which there is a 90 per cent chance, the teams will have to share a point each, which would be a point lost for Pakistan.
Had their position been a little secure, this would have been the ideal opponent to test a few reserves against. But Pakistan still, despite the feel-good win over England, are third from bottom. If anyone, then one of Imad Wasim and Haris Sohail could be brought in to replace Asif Ali, whose promise of late burst of boundaries may not be needed against a weak Sri Lanka side.
Sri Lanka are also coming on the back of a win but theirs was against Afghanistan and much less impressive than Pakistan’s over England. Some tweaking could be done, particularly to shore up the failing batting unit.
With all that’s written above, there is no way one can back Sri Lanka here. The hosts take this one. Perhaps not too comfortably but they take it.