By Srian Obeyesekere reporting from Abu Dhabi
‘Must Win’ will be the slogan word Sri Lanka will carry to Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Cricket Stadium against Pakistan in the third day-night ODI on Thursday October 18. The reality to the decisive task to skipper Upul Tharanga and his charges is like getting past the Rock of Gibraltar. Such is the rock hard cocoon Pakistan Safraz Ahmed’s team basks in. Their great escape from a precarious101 for 6 that Sri Lanka had pinned them to emerging the eventual winners by 32 runs on Tuesday to go 2-nil up is the best example of the aura that Pakistan glows in today in the biff bang game; an aura that looked a lonely word but a few months ago before they shook the cricketing world by emerging Champions Trophy winners of 2017.
Indeed, Sri Lanka, confront the odds to beating Pakistan. Coming out of the shackles of a rebuilding curve of the past one year on the back of largely new blood in getting the ideal combinative rhythm in all departments of the game is the urgency. The batting cast is one of immense imaginative young talent. The skill is there, but the batsmen need to get their act together as batting coach, Hashan Tillekeratne puts it in a pre-match contention. There is no room for complacency.
The need of the hour is for the specialists to put their heads down and buckle to the task of run making; the type of run making that would take the game off a highly volatile opposition that has put the gear to the power machine as world beaters. In that perspective, there is one man in the Sri Lankan cast who carries the skills of a prince in batting. That is 21-year old Kusal Mendis who has proved this to the world by an inheritance of a wealth of imaginative stroke play. His willow has sparked before which did insulate him as the new prince to carry the torch from the likes of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. The youngster needs to come out of the rut in form of having not compiled 40 runs in the last ten innings, and not a half century in his last 12. That it has all to do in a fall of confidence that Mendis needs to quickly get that sheen on that would bring out the best in him is vital to Sri Lanka’s cause. Most of the top order too in Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne too must put their heads down to the task. It is all a game about calm and patience where run grafting from the ones and the twos to getting the feel of things in ascending to the big blows is what the stars need to buckle down to. Skipper Upul Tharanga has led from the front by his century in the last game despite early blotches must inspire the side. Wicket-keeper batsman Niroshan Dickwella, who requires a further 87 runs to become the fastest Sri Lankan to the 1000-run milestone in his 26th innings that would beat Roy Dias’s record in 27 innings, has been the man among the runs. Despite coming a cropper in the last match, Dickwella packs a robust pedigree of going after bowling attacks, and a big innings from him right upfront opening the batting would be decisive to his sides cause; as much to reaching the personal milestone that would raise his stocks much.
In the bowling, Sri Lanka can take heart by the early inroads made in the last match. But they would need to put heart and soul to implementing a game plan of going the entire distance of decimating Pakistan who have time and time again proved they have a dependable later order to rally them from dire situations. The likely change could well be Chamara Kapugedera for Milinda Siriwardena who has had a bad outing in the 5-match series.
Pitch forecast: Hot, humid conditions.
Sri Lanka (Likely): 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
Pakistan (Likely): 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.
-The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sri Lanka Cricket-