Sending Sarfraz Ahmed to bat at number four was a masterstroke pulled-off by Azhar Ali and Waqar Younis. Regardless of the result, the decision to utilise the confidence, form and sheer talent of Sarfraz at a crucial juncture of the game spoke volumes about the new-found assurance in the team management.
The Test series victory in the Pearl Island has given renewed vigour and hope to the Waqar led think tank and in a sweet turn of events, the same management that looked so averse to risk-taking in the recent past has turned a new leaf.
The second ODI in Pallekele was dominated for decent lengths by Pakistan and despite the narrow loss the squad retained the belief in its ability to bounce back strongly at the Premadasa Stadium.
Azhar claimed he was proud of his charges as they fought back gainfully following that Kusal Perera blitz from hell.
Pakistan pummelled the opposition at Premadasa, the toss was crucial and Angelo Mathew’s woeful luck at the toss of the coin, contributed to another correct call by Azhar.
The batting performance by Pakistan was simply clinical. In the first 49 overs, the top five batsmen — Azhar, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Sarfraz and Shoaib Malik — looked unflappable and despite the sweltering heat and humidity they played with uncluttered minds, it seemed that they had hardly broken sweat despite their soaking shirts and helmets.
The final over was total mayhem. The best death bowler of the modern game Lasith Malinga was taken apart by Mohammad Rizwan and Malik — 21 runs in the final over, the second straight game that Malinga leaked more than 20 in one over.
Sri Lanka is the only major cricket country where a 300-plus score is yet to be chased down — a staggering record for a country that has hosted nearly 300 ODIs — and once Pakistan crossed the mark, their grip over the game firmed up to an altogether new level.
Read: Sarfraz, Yasir star in Pakistan's 135-run win against Sri Lanka
Young guns hold sway with breathtaking fielding
Under Azhar, the Pakistan ODI team is shaping up into a potent unit after the horrors of the ‘Banglawash’. The Greenshirts, historically castigated for their lacklustre fielding, have found some astonishingly agile fielders who have broken the age-old myth that Pakistan cannot produce world-class fielders. The supremely fit duo of Anwar Ali and Rizwan have set alight the Lankan fields with their sensational catches, dives and throws.
After snapping a Lahiru Thirimanne blinder at the third-man region in Pallekele, Anwar — positioned at the deep mid-wicket region — ran in almost 20 yards, dived full length and pouched on the ball inches above the ground like a panther to send Sachith Pathirana pavilion-wards. Such fielding alacrity in the Pakistan green shirt has been witnessed rarely in the past.
Other newbies Babar Azam, Imad Wasim, Yasir Shah, as well as veteran Shoaib Malik are all razor-sharp in the field and if the nucleus of this squad is somehow retained for the next two years, then Pakistan are surely set to be recognised as one of the very best fielding units in the world.
The bowlers too complimented the work of the batsmen and fielders brilliantly at the Premadasa. Yasir finally replicated his Test exploits with the white ball and spun a vicious spell around the hapless hosts.
Rahat Ali, who irritatingly erred on the short side, looked a million dollars when he pitched the ball up to the batsmen; his slippery pace allied with the ability to generate lateral movement makes him a tough customer for the batsmen but he must improve his control in the games ahead.
Anwar Ali’s cunning new ball spell broke the back of the Lankan chase, the all-rounder with his grease lightning fielding, increasingly potent bowling and more than useful batting is fast turning into a vital cog in the line-up.
After the Premadasa drubbing, the series is there for the taking for Pakistan; Azhar and his men though need to stay focused on the task at hand, they still can’t afford to give even an inch to the Islanders.