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Must-win for sinking Sri Lanka agianst soaring Pakistan

Hasan Ali exults after having Kusal Mendis caught AFP

Big Picture

It didn't seem so long ago that Pakistan were considered a modest ODI outfit playing an outdated form of the game. Their batting was too slow, their bowlers not penetrative enough, and their fielding conformed to stereotype. Now, suddenly, having beaten the world, they have begun to play like world-beaters. It is the newer players that have injected this fresh energy: the likes of Babar Azam, Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan and Fakhar Zaman who have shaken things up. On Monday, Babar and Shadab, 23 and 19-years-old respectively, heaved their side to a win in a match they should have comfortably lost.

The opposing camp can only look on with envy. There, despite the many changes over the last year, there have been no signs of reinvigoration. The nine-match losing streak is their worst in 30 years, their bowlers rarely take wickets, and even when they do - as on Monday - the batsmen fail to score the runs. What's worse is that so many players who began their careers with promise have begun to flounder in this format. Dinesh Chandimal was once an outstanding limited-overs prospect, now he can barely hold a place in the XI. Milinda Siriwardana and Thisara Perera too - dazzling talents once, but inconsistent performers of late.

Having won eight of their last nine ODIs now, Pakistan have begun to acquire an aura of indomitability. Having reduced them to 101 for 6 and still failed, Sri Lanka must be wondering what they have to do to win a match. That, in the middle of a series, SLC is trying to convince individual players to agree to play the third T20 is Lahore, is perhaps also drawing focus from the series at hand.

Whatever the case, Pakistan now have the chance to lock down this series. Sri Lanka must reach for a special performance to break their abysmal streak.

Form guide

Sri Lanka LLLLL(completed matches, most recent first)
Pakistan WWWWW

In the spotlight

It's time to talk about Kusal Mendis. It has been 12 international knocks now since he last reached fifty. In ODIs alone, he has not made 40 in his ten most-recent completed innings. There is no pattern to his dismissals, which suggests his slump is largely a matter of confidence. But having for so long been Sri Lanka's beacon while team-mates regularly collapsed around him, Mendis desperately needs runs in the series to stave off contenders for his position. Asela Gunaratne, Kusal Perera, Angelo Mathews and Danushka Gunathilaka all await a return to the XI, after all.

Thirty-three ODIs in, Babar Azam has seven ODI tons and six fifties. He is faster out of the gate than the likes of Virat Kohli - the challenge for Azam now is to maintain that intensity. Among his strengths is that Azam seems to have an innate understanding how to pace a big ODI innings - when to see a tough bowler out, and when to hit out. These are qualities that batsman often do not develop until they are experienced. With three more potential innings against what has been a poor Sri Lanka attack this year, Azam will aim to swell what is already an impressive average of 57.20.

Team news

Pakistan are likely to field the same XI, giving Ahmed Shehzad another run despite scores of 0 and 8 so far.

Pakistan (probable): 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Fakhar Zaman, 3 Babar Azam, 4 Mohammad Hafeez, 5 Shoaib Malik, 6 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt & wk), 7 Imad Wasim, 8 Shadab Khan, 9 Rumman Raees, 10 Hasan Ali, 11 Junaid Khan

Following scores of 0 and 3, Milinda Siriwardana's place in the XI may be under the microscope. The team management may persevere with Siriwardana, but if they drop him, Chamara Kapugedara is likeliest to enter the XI.

Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Niroshan Dickwella, (wk), 2 Upul Tharanga (capt), 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Lahiru Thirimanne, 5 Dinesh Chandimal, 6 Milinda Siriwardana, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Akila Dananjaya, 9 Jeffrey Vandersay, 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Lahiru Gamage

Pitch and conditions

Yet another hot, humid outing awaits the players in Abu Dhabi. The stadium is not typically a high-scoring venue, with 300 having been breached on only three occasions.

Stats and trivia

  • Babar Azam is the fastest batsman to seven ODI centuries, doing it eight innings quicker than the next-best batsman

  • Pakistan have won both previous bilateral series against Sri Lanka in the UAE. They beat Sri Lanka 4-1 in 2011, and 3-2 in 2013

  • Niroshan Dickwella needs 87 more runs to complete 1000 in ODIs. If he does it in the next innings - his 26th - he will be the fastest Sri Lanka batsman to the milestone, beating Roy Dias, who got there in 27

Quotes

"The batters need to get their act together. The skill is there, but they need to get their act together."
Sri Lanka batting coach Hashan Tillakaratne