Thursday: Dinesh Chandimal and his men have ended Sri Lanka’s losing streak by winning the two-Test series 2-0 and now its upto Sri Lanka’s one-day captain Upul Tharanga to continue that winning vein when he leads them in the first ODI of a five-match series at Dubai International Stadium on Friday commencing 3 pm local time (4.30 pm SLT).
Sri Lanka has not won an ODI series in the UAE losing 4-1 in 2011 and 3-2 in 2013 and it was a similar scenario in the Tests as well where Pakistan had remained unbeaten since 2010 until Sri Lanka conquered them.
It remains to be seen whether Tharanga can inspire his team to turn things around. To do that he has six members of the winning Test team including captain Chandimal and vice-captain Lahiru Thirimanne to help him achieve that.
Retained in the ODI squad from the Test team apart from Chandimal and Thirimanne are Niroshan Dickwella, Nuwan Pradeep, Suranga Lakmal and Kusal Mendis, the rest are new to the conditions at UAE especially Jeffrey Vandersay, Milinda Siriwardana, Vishwa Fernando, Akila Dananjaya and Dushmantha Chameera who have not played here before.
“The Test team had the hunger to perform well and the players who have come into the ODI side should have the same hunger to win. We spoke a lot about how they won. We didn’t win the Test series by planning in just one day, the plans were laid down days ahead and the players and support staff took a lot of pain to earn that success,” said Tharanga at the pre-match press conference.
“There were different situations during the Tests and all of them were handled properly. This is what we have to carry forward in the ODIs also. The new players have spoken to the players who played in the Tests and also with the coaches regarding the ground and conditions. We have got all the information we need from them and we have to confidence”.
Speaking further Tharanga said, “We accept that we didn’t play well against India. On two occasions we had chance of winning but we failed. The failure was mainly from the batting. We tend to start well but lose wickets in the middle. If you take the last few ODIs we have not batted our full quota of 50 overs. We have spoken about it with the batsmen and what we expect from them. We take all this into tomorrow’s match. In the Tests we saw that the batsmen had a hunger to score runs. I hope the ODI batsmen also have the same hunger and come up with the totals to win.”
Sri Lanka will be without fast bowler Nuwan Pradeep who is returning home following a hamstring niggle and he will be replaced by Lahiru Gamage (who made his Test debut at Dubai) in the ODI squad.
Tharanga has to be cautious about the over rate because if he errs here again he will face a six match ban. He served a two-match ban during the last series against India.
“We had discussed it amongst the players you cannot blame one player for it but the entire team must take responsibility. It will be crucial for me as captain that we maintain a good over rate,” said Tharanga.
Pakistan are the current Champions trophy winners and they have no one but Sri Lanka to thank for getting them there. Had not Thisara Perera (a member of the current ODI side) spilt a sitter at mid-on from Sarfraz Ahmed in the group match, Pakistan would never have made it to the semi-finals and gone onto win the Champions trophy.
Sri Lanka last won a bilateral ODI series in 2016 when they beat Ireland 2-0.
Their ODI record since then has been one of disaster winning just eight of their last 36 ODIs and losing 24 (3 no-results, 1 tie) that has made them drop to eighth in the rankings and barely make the automatic qualification to the 2019 World Cup.
Sri Lanka does no longer have to worry about rankings but it is imperative that they start getting some wins under their belts to give the team the confidence it lacks.
SRI LANKA CAN IMPROVE RANKINGS
Sri Lanka has a tough task if they hope to overtake sixth placed Pakistan in the rankings like they did in the Test rankings during the preceding series. To do that they have to beat Pakistan either 4-1 or 5-0 which would give them 91 points to Pakistan’s 89 and push them up one slot to seventh with Bangladesh moving to sixth and Pakistan eighth.
Pakistan can only consolidate their position at six if they beat Sri Lanka because the margin of points between them (95) and fifth placed New Zealand (111) is too great.
Pakistan skipper Sarfraz said that this being their first ODI since winning the Champions trophy in June they hope to keep the same momentum going and play like they did.
“This is our first match after the CT win. Hopefully we will keep the same momentum and play like that. We have to move forward forgetting what happened in the Tests. We have some new players in the squad and hope they will give us good performances,” said Sarfraz.
“Captaincy in Tests is tough because you have to change with every session, but in ODIs and T20Is it’s session to session and you have to make quick decisions.
“Unfortunately we don't have (Mohammad) Amir (injured) but we have a good bowling attack with Usman (Khan) and Ruman (Raees) along with Junaid Khan so it’s a good attack. We have a set batting order and the combination is doing well which suits us. When I became captain in the West Indies this was our combination but if there’s a need then we can have a change. Sri Lanka are a good team on paper so it will be a good series,” he said.