Destructive Kusal Perera - prime target for the Pakistanis

When Pakistan ran up 287-8 batting first in the second One-Day International at Pallekele on Wednesday they would have given themselves a very good  chance of going 2-up in the five-match series for they had the bowlers to exploit the conditions and restrict the Sri Lankan total.

However they were quite surprisingly hit by a cyclone in the form of Kusal Perera who mauled their bowling to the tune of scoring the quickest ODI fifty by a Sri Lankan off 17 balls and thus equaling the record held by Sanath Jayasuriya, a destructive batsman of the same mould which Perera has modeled himself on.

There’s little doubt that Perera is virtually a carbon copy of the great Jayasuriya. His presence in the middle and his approach to the game only brings back nostalgic memories of Jayasuriya in his heyday when he battered bowlers of his time to submission and forced some of them into early retirement.

The pace set by Perera gave Sri Lanka the ideal start to chase down Pakistan’s imposing total and despite a few hiccups in the middle order when they lost four wickets for 19 runs they were always within striking distance as long as they preserved their wickets.

In this aspect a lot of credit should also go to Dinesh Chandimal who in the number six position is proving to be a good finisher of matches for his team. He brought about certain calmness to the batting after the middle order slump and, with the tail steered his team home with 11 balls to spare.

Seasoned campaigner Tillakaratne Dilshan has realized his role in the team is to give as much of the strike to Perera and the two paired off as a perfect foil against the Pakistan attack. Dilshan himself an attacking batsman during his salad days is playing a more mature role and his presence in the side is proving valuable to skipper Angelo Mathews who has lost the services of two of his able lieutenants Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara – both retired.

Sri Lanka’s win in the second match has thrown the five-match series wide open and the way things are shaping up it is not to the liking of the Pakistanis.

Prior to the start of the series Pakistan were in danger of failing to qualify for the ICC Champions trophy in England in 2017 if they fail to finish within the top eight of the ODI rankings by September 30, 2015.

Ranked ninth with 87 points their best chance of rising above eighth placed West Indies is to win the series against Sri Lanka by a margin of 3-2 which should put them ahead (90) of the West Indies (88 points).

Pakistan’s best chance lay in making a clean sweep (5-0) of the series which would have seen them rise as high as 94 points and assure themselves of a place in the Champions trophy.

But with Sri Lanka coming back strongly after their loss at Dambulla and squaring the series, Pakistan will have a fight on their hands to try and win it. If Pakistan loses the series 2-3 they will drop to 88 points and if they lose by a 1-4 margin they will go down to 86 points.

Pakistan’s chances of qualifying has been compounded by the stunning performance displayed by Bangladesh who not only beat them but has also gone onto win the series against India and South Africa as well to assure themselves of a place in the Champions trophy.

Pakistan did everything right at Pallakele in all three departments and was unlucky to miss out on a win which would have given them the confidence to go ahead and win the series. But now with Sri Lanka making a bold come back the odds have shifted dramatically in favour of the home side.

The third and fourth ODIs (July 22) are scheduled at the R Premadasa Stadium, a favourite hunting ground for the hosts as they have won 63 out of the 100 odd matches played there including seven wins out of the last eight ODIs played there.

The way the Lankan performed at Pallekele their fielding was appalling to say the least and skipper Mathews went on record to state that it was “embarrassing”.

“We were terrible on the field it was very embarrassing. We can’t field like this as a unit definitely it’s an area of concern, we all know how pathetic we were on the field,” said Mathews at the post-match press conference.

According to Mathews had Sri Lanka not suffered that middle-order hiccup they could have wrapped the match up in 40 overs.

“We were cruising from the start that we got from Kusal and Dilshan and we just had to bat it out. We should have got there somewhere in the 40th over but we gave them a chance by losing wickets regularly at crucial times and that put us under a lot of pressure,” he said.

The poor form of his vice-captain Lahiru Thirimanne, Mathews said was not a major issue as long as his team was winning.

“We don’t want to meddle around too much with the combination maybe one or two changes in the batting or bowling according to the conditions and the pitch. We want to stick to one combination and give the players the experience. Thirimanne’s got a lot of quality in him and hopefully he will step up and contribute,” Mathews said.

Pakistan captain Azhar Ali praised his team for fighting back but admitted that it was tough to come back after the start given by Kusal Perera. The aggressive left-hander will be on their radar for the rest of the series. They will try to ensure they see the back of him as early as possible.