By Sa’adi Thawfeeq
Sri Lanka will have a fight on their hands to save the five-match one-day international series against Pakistan from slipping away from their hands when they play the fourth game at the R Premadasa Stadium on Wednesday.
They trail Pakistan 1-2 and tomorrow’s contest becomes a ‘must-win’ for them if Pakistan is to be denied of wrapping up the series.
“The wicket looks a bit dry and seems to have a bit of grass on it as well. Not quite sure what to do on that. We’ll give it another half a day, come back tomorrow and decide on the playing XI. Whoever plays will have to lift our game,” said Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews.
“When it comes to batting, bowling and fielding we have to improve in all three departments. It’s a must-win game for us. We have nothing to lose. We’ll just play our best cricket and not worry about the result.”
Sri Lanka’s problems have been compounded by the ineffectiveness of their main strike bowler Lasith Malinga who has captured only three wickets in three matches and conceded 200 runs. In the last match he went for 80 runs in his ten overs for just one wicket.
“We talked with Lasith about his performance. We are confident he’ll play the way the team needs him to play,” said Mathews.
“It’s not at all an issue to drop a senior player, but we know his capabilities. He understands his game. He feels that he hasn’t performed well and that he needs to do a lot better for the team.
“You need to give guys chances as well. As soon as you have a couple of bad games you can’t throw away these players because they are quality players. They are experienced enough to handle their game. I’m pretty sure he’ll come out firing tomorrow.”
Mathews also pointed that not only Malinga but as a bowling unit they have struggled to restrict or bowl Pakistan out.
“The quick bowlers didn’t do well in the three matches – not just Lasith. We didn’t have a bowler who could take wickets. We can’t make major changes. We have to figure out how to get the best out of what we have. We have had individual chats with the players,” said Mathews.
“In both the last two games we conceded over 300 and 288. We didn’t get many wickets and there’s a definite issue there. We need to find a solution. We’ll talk about it and make some decisions, in view of what the pitch will be like. There could definitely be some changes.”
Mathews defended the decision to play only two specialist bowlers in the last two matches – Malinga and Nuwan Pradeep.
“We talked a lot about that. We considered Sachith Pathirana and Thisara Perera bowlers, so we did feel we played four. If you look at the balance of the team, only two specialist bowlers, but we felt Thisara would do the job for us. But all bowlers weren’t able to fulfill that role,” stated Mathews.
“We don’t have spinners outside who we can bring in. We have to do well with the bowlers we have. We are playing our best four bowlers, but if we don’t get the right results, we’ll look to change that.”
Mathews said the reason why Sri Lanka had not considered picking off-spinner Sachitra Senanayake was because the top seven in the Pakistan batting line up are all right-handers.
“That’s why we used a left-arm spinner. Dilshan is there to provide off-spin. There is a chance Sachithra will play, but in all three matches so far, our spinners didn’t get much out of the track,” said Mathews.
“Sachithra has bowled well, but after his remedial work, his effectiveness has slightly decreased. Pakistan are a team that plays spin well. If we look at their spinners they have bowlers who turn it a lot. Yasir Shah would turn it on any track. Sometimes we have to do with the best at what we are good at. We have to figure out how to do well with the bowlers we have.”
Mathews stated that batsman Ashan Priyanjan who hasn’t played in the series yet could get a game tomorrow.
“Priyanjan has a big chance to play, though we won’t make that decision till tomorrow.”
Sri Lanka are going through a transition period where they are trying to fill in the shoes of players in the caliber of Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Rangana Herath.
“We are injecting some new blood into the system. We’ve got Milinda Siriwardana, Sachith Pathirana and Nuwan Pradeep. All these guys are getting a proper go. You can’t have eleven new players,” said Mathews.
“I know that this is a transition period, but it has to be a smooth transition. Experience also matters. Younger players learn from the experienced guys. As well as you need to win you need to have that correct combination when it comes to youth and experience.
“We’ve got a few experienced guys – TM Dilshan is one, Lasith Malinga is another and Upul Tharanga, they have played quite a lot of one- dayers. But all the others haven’t played that many games. So we’ve got a new set of players who are playing constantly now. The young guys are in line to come into the national team. From under-19 players it has to be a gradual process,” he said.
Mathews said that Herath was not considered because he wants to concentrate more on playing Tests.
“We talked with the selectors about Rangana Herath. He wants to play Tests for a while, and we got a message that one-dayers are a bit tough on his body, given his injuries,” said Mathews.
“He talked with the selectors and told them his stand. He’s someone who’s very valuable to us in Tests. He can’t be particularly athletic in ODIs with his knees the way they are. He told me and the selectors that, and so we’ll look at him for Tests”.
Pakistan captain Azhar Ali knows that he is only one win away from pocketing the ODI series and said that Pakistan would only make a change if there is any changes in the conditions or the pitch.
He said the players had responded well to the fact that Mohammad Hafeez cannot bowl after being reported for a suspect bowling action.
“They showed a lot of responsibility we made one change and it worked. We’ll try to put out our best side so that we won’t miss his bowling, especially,” said Azhar.
Left-arm spinner Imad Wasim made his debut and captured two wickets that helped Pakistan win the game by 135 runs.
“We have two good spin bowlers Yasir Shah is bowling very well and Imad who made his debut bowled brilliantly. With a little bit of help from the pitch we have a very good attack to exploit it.”
Azhar is also pleased that his batsmen are also firing. “As a batting unit if everyone is scoring runs it’s a very good sign. They are scoring at a good pace and we want them to continue the good work because we want consistency.”