It was no real surprise that Sri Lanka rode an outstanding fifty from Danushka Gunathilaka to a competitive total in the first match. Were it not for injury and disciplinary issues, the opener would command a place in their first-choice limited-overs XI. He is among the more naturally-gifted batsmen in any match.
It was also no surprise that Dasun Shanaka helped Sri Lanka maintain their momentum through the later stages of the innings. He is also one of the cleanest ball-strikers around.
What was surprising was the ease with which Sri Lanka shut Pakistan’s chase down. Even without Lasith Malinga, the fast bowlers had the opposition 22 for 3. Pakistan are the top-ranked T20 side in the world, but this particular top order contained Umar Akmal, who had not contributed to that rise, and Ahmed Shehzad, who had not played a T20I since mid-2018. They made 4 off 9 balls and a first-ball duck respectively. Not surprisingly, coach Misbah-ul-Haq, who made these out-of-left-field selections, is facing a little scrutiny after his first T20 in charge.
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But one victory does not make Sri Lanka invulnerable. Avishka Fernando appears to have hit some modest form in Pakistan, to follow his breakout World Cup, but the likes of Lakshan Sandakan and Wanindu Hasaranga are also far from reliable wristspin options still. The more senior players in the Sri Lanka XI will need to continue to produce excellent innings and spells, so that the younger cricketers can play in their slipstream.
Pakistan LLWLL (completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka WWLLL
In the spotlight
Just quietly, Shadab Khan has been having a disappointing 2019. His legspin has averaged 41.11 across 13 ODI innings this year (though his World Cup average of 35.55 was better). In T20s, his numbers are even bleaker – his economy rate up at 9.42, and his average at 44, albeit from only four appearances. Sri Lanka is a team he had generally done well against, but several batsmen seemed to enjoy his bowling through the course of this tour, and his 1 for 35 on Saturday was modest without being terrible. In recent years, Sri Lanka haven’t loved playing wristspin. If Shadab can turn his form around, Pakistan will go some way to checking the opposition’s batting.
Prior to his debut, no uncapped Sri Lanka player had quite produced as much hype in the capital as Bhanuka Rajapaksa. A star at school level for one of the fanciest Colombo institutions – Royal College – Rajapaksa had been tipped by many to become one of the island’s best. But in senior cricket, his record has been modest, particularly in first-class and List A matches. Despite this, he has now got the chance to showcase his wares at the top level, and in his first T20I, he produced an innings that went some way to justifying the 10-year hype. If he can back Saturday’s 32 off 22 balls up with another good performance, the selectors may keep him on even when the first-choice players return to the fray.
Given Shehzad’s poor innings in the first match, Fakhar Zaman may come back into the XI.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Fakhar Zaman, 2 Babar Azam, 3 Umar Akmal, 4 Sarfaraz Ahmed (capt.) (wk), 5 Iftikhar Ahmed, 6 Asif Ali, 7 Imad Wasim, 8 Faheem Ashraf, 9 Shadab Khan, 10 Mohammad Amir, 11 Mohammad Hasnain
Sri Lanka will probably see no reason to change their XI.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Danushka Gunathilaka, 2 Avishka Fernando, 3 Bhanuka Rajapaksa, 4 Shehan Jayasuriya, 5 Minod Bhanuka (wk), 6 Dasun Shanaka (capt.), 7 Wanindu Hasaranga, 8 Isuru Udana, 9 Lakshan Sandakan, 10 Kasun Rajitha, 11 Nuwan Pradeep
Pitch and conditions
The dew that both teams had expected did not turn up in force on Saturday. Expect Lahore to produce a similar surface.
Stats and trivia
Sri Lanka have lost each of their four most-recent T20 series, two of which have been at home, and two away. Their last away series win (outside one-off games) was against Bangladesh in early 2018.
Pakistan have never lost a bilateral T20 series to Sri Lanka.
Umar Akmal has not made a T20 fifty since February 2016. Shehzad had not made one since September 2017.