For the third time in a year, it has come to this: Sri Lanka must win to avoid a whitewash at the hands of an opposition they have barely pushed through the first four games. They did not manage to win the fifth match against South Africa in February, nor the fifth against India in September. As their bowlers continue to prove friendly, and their batting brittle, a third 0-5 whitewash beckons seductively from the corner. When mediocrity has called, Sri Lanka’s 2017 ODI team has rarely resisted.
So dominant have Pakistan been that it is difficult to pinpoint an area that needs a definite tune-up. Even without Mohammad Amir in the squad, Sarfraz Ahmed’s suggestion that Pakistan have the best ODI attack in the world is not outlandish, Shadab Khan and Hasan Ali having run white-hot through this series. Babar Azam and Imam-ul-Haq have fired at the top of the order, and Shoaib Malik has batted well in the middle. When required, the lower order has bailed the team out as well. They are facing weak opposition, but with several Pakistan players continuing to make a charge up the ODI rankings, they can claim to have consolidated the ODI form they had gathered during the Champions Trophy.
Sri Lanka require a fantastic individual performance to propel them to an unlikely victory, as the team does not appear to be meshing well as a whole. A whirlwind Niroshan Dickwella innings or a terrific Akila Dananjaya spell have the potential to transform Sri Lanka’s fortunes. But whenever Sri Lanka have mustered a passage of good cricket, Pakistan have usually responded with a better one.
Sri Lanka LLLLL (completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
That Sarfraz Ahmed had to report an allegedly corrupt approach may be the most memorable story about him from this series, but he has also now fashioned an impressive start to his limited-overs leadership. Under him, Pakistan have now won three ODI trophies in three different continents (plus a single ODI against Zimabwe in 2015). He is a difficult captain not to like – constantly proactive, and often using his bowlers intelligently. If Pakistan win, this would be his first whitewash at the helm.
Upul Tharanga, meanwhile, has had a difficult time in his own leadership. He had been Sri Lanka’s captain during the two previous whitewashes this year – though he was suspended for two matches in the India series – and has not been successful on other occasions he has led. His own batting form, however, has largely been good. In this series, he is the second-highest run-scorer after Babar, with 191 runs at an average of 63.66.
Pakistan may be tempted to experiment in this dead rubber. Left-arm quick Usman Khan may get another match after taking 1 for 38 on debut on Friday.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Imam-ul-Haq, 2 Fakhar Zaman, 3 Babar Azam, 4 Mohammad Hafeez, 5 Shoaib Malik, 6 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt & wk), 7 Imad Wasim, 8 Shadab Khan, 9 Hasan Ali, 10 Usman Khan, 11 Junaid Khan
Having run themselves out of options, Sri Lanka may retain many of the same XI that lost by seven wickets on Friday.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Niroshan Dickwella, (wk), 2 Upul Tharanga (capt.), 3 Dinesh Chandimal, 4 Lahiru Thirimanne, 5 Sadeera Samarawickrama, 6 Milinda Siriwardana, 7 Seekkuge Prasanna, 8 Thisara Perera, 9 Akila Dananjaya, 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Lahiru Gamage
Pitch and conditions
Sharjah surfaces are rarely conducive to scores of more than 300, but are not overtly biased towards the bowlers either. The temperature is forecast to be in the mid-30-degree range in the afternoon.
Stats and trivia
- Pakistan have won 11 of the 13 ODIs they have played under Sarfraz’s captaincy.
- Sri Lanka have won four and lost 15 under Tharanga
- In addition to now having lost 11 consecutive ODIs, Sri Lanka have also lost eight out of ten ODIs against Pakistan since 2015