With the dust now settled on Sri Lanka’s one-sided and often embarrassing 5-0 series defeat to Pakistan in the UAE, attention turns to the shortest form of the game, and a chance of redemption for the islanders.
The two sides play a three game T20I series over the course of four days and two countries – with the first two games to be held this Thursday and Friday at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, the capital of Pakstan’s adopted cricketing home. All eyes however are likely to be on the third fixture, slated as it is to be played out in Lahore’s Gaddafi stadium, back home in Pakistan.
International cricket returned to Pakistan earlier this year after a long hiatus, when the ICC sent a representative World XI side to play three Twenty20 games, and granted them full international status. The matches were played without incident, and paved the way for Sri Lanka to become the first full international side to play on Pakistan soil since Zimbabwe in 2015. Prior to Zimbabwe’s visit, Pakistan had not played a single game at home since 2009, following a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus, so the fact that it is the Sri Lankans that are the visitors for this historic occasion is even more remarkable.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, not everyone in the Sri Lankan camp was comfortable with returning to the scene of such a traumatic event, with white ball captain Upul Tharanga and several top players (as well as head coach Nic Pothas) choosing not to travel to Pakistan. Sri Lanka Cricket then decided that if players boycotted the Lahore fixture, then they would not be considered for the first two games in Abu Dhabi either – which means that their squad for this entire series has a very inexperienced look about it.
Stand in captain Thisara Perera – who was Sri Lanka’s sole representative in the World XI squad in September, and so had no qualms about leading his country back to Lahore – will remarkably become Sri Lanka’s seventh captain across all formats since June this year. Perera has 60 Twenty20 caps to his name, while the rest of his 16-man squad (which includes five potential T20 international debutants) have a total of just 75 between them.
The much changed squad largely renders Sri Lanka’s recent T20 form irrelevant. For what it is worth, they have won their last two series away from home 2-1, against Australia and South Africa. Pakistan for their part are coming off a 2-1 series win in the World XI series and a 3-1 win in the West Indies earlier in the year.
There are a couple of players with personal milestones in their sights to watch out for as the series unfolds this week:
Shoaib Malik (Pakistan)
With 89 caps to his name, the evergreen all-rounder is international cricket’s second highest Twenty20 appearance holder, behind countryman Shahid Afridi’s 98.
His 1,719 runs in the format are enough for sixth place in the world all-time standings. He sits just 60 run behind Afghanistan’s Mohammad Shahzad in fifth, 87 behind New Zealand opener Martin Guptill in fourth, and 134 behind India’s captain fantastic Virat Kohli in third.
Malik will have the chance to play three full games before Guptill and Kohli commence battle in their own T20 series over in India next Wednesday, so will be confident of moving into that world top three, even if it is only temporarily.
Mohammed Hafeez (Pakistan)
Fellow Pakistani all-rounder Hafeez has 78 international caps in the game’s shortest format, enough for 6th place. If he plays all three games, he will move to 81 which will see him overtake India’s MS Dhoni (temporarily) and Sri Lanka’s Tilikaratne Dilshan and move into fourth place on the ladder.
Run wise, his 1,619 career runs see him sit in tenth place in the world. South Africa’s JP Duminy is in ninth on 1,683, but will be captaining South Africa in a series against Bangladesh at the same time as this series is being played, so may remain out of reach. Countryman Umar Akmal’s 1,690 and Australia’s David Warner’s 1,696 however should be catchable.
With ball in hand, Hafeez has taken 46 Twenty20 wickets, so is just four short of his half century. He perhaps only has this series to get there, as his bowling action was reported to the ICC for the third time as being illegal during the one-day series, and hence he must submit to testing after ther series and faces another bowling ban.