KARACHI: The nonseasonal rain showers in the city threatened the groundbreaking One-day International series here as Pakistan prepared to host Sri Lanka in the first of three matches at the National Stadium on Friday.
With paramount importance given to the security measures — akin to what head of state and VVIPs normally receive — the resumption of full-fledged One-day Internationals would be the most significant step towards the return of international cricket to Pakistan after almost ten years.
Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed endorsed national team’s head coach-cum-chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq’s views the other day in which the former skipper eulogized the steps taken by the government, PCB and the security agencies to ensure incident free and exciting cricket for home fans.
“We just cannot wait for the series to begin because only a few of us have played in ODI matches before the home crowd. My last such game here was in 2008 during the Asia Cup and Wahab Riaz is the only other player to have played an ODI in Karachi,” Sarfraz told the pre-series media conference at the National Stadium on Thursday. “For me it would be a moment of great excitement to be leading Pakistan for the first time in a One-day International in front of [my] hometown supporters. This will definitely be a very proud moment of my career.
“I am sure the series will set a great example of Pakistan being very good hosts, something other countries such as Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and England should take note of and think about touring Pakistan in the near future,” the captain stressed. “It is unthinkable to speak about international cricket without Pakistan being an integral part of the community.”
It is only appropriate that Sri Lanka once again are the opponents as they were way back in January 2009 when two fixtures of a three-match rubber were staged at this venue during that fateful tour when the visiting team members came under terror attacks on their way to Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on the morning of day three of the second Test.
If the match starts on time as per schedule, this would be the first ODI in Karachi after a yawning gap of exactly 3901 days, which is equivalent to an unimaginable 10 years, eight months and six days, since Sri Lanka defeated Pakistan by 129 runs in the second fixture on their way to winning the series 2-1.
In between these barren years, Pakistan did host a three-match ODI series against the low-ranked Zimbabwe at Lahore in May 2015 but this Sri Lankan series here counts as the first major and historic step towards resumption of top class cricket at home.
“Of course, this took a long time coming but we should be proud of the fact thatour cricket fans finally get the chance to see their stars playing in front of their own eyes,” Sarfraz added while further stating Pakistan would not take the new look Sri Lanka lightly. “They may be lacking the experience of many top players but we’ll still have to play very good cricket to achieve our goals and that is to win the series.”
With nine of the top regular stars skipping the tour for security reasons and prodigiously talented young right-handed batsman Kusal Mendis sidelined through injury, Sri Lanka have named experienced left-handed opening batsman Lahiru Thirimanne as the ODI captain against Pakistan here with all-rounder Dasun Shanaka appointed to lead the islanders in the three Twenty20 Internationals in Lahore from next week.
The young and talented Sri Lankan squad - despite the absence of the likes of Angelo Mathews, Lasith Malinga, Dimuth Karunaratne (regular Test and ODI), Dinesh Chandimal, Suranga Lakmal, Thisara Perera, Dhananjaya de Silva and Kusal Perera - have the potential to surprise the home side.
The batting would mainly revolve around the 30-year-old Thirimanne, who has accumulated 3,158 runs so far at 35.08 in 135 One-day Internationals, and Avishka Fernando. The 21-year-old right-hander was one of the emerging stars of this year’s ICC World Cup with a flawless innings of 104 against the West Indies at Chester-le-Street and topped his team’s batting averages (50.75) in four matches.
Compared to their batting, Sri Lanka have a decent bowling attack with Nuwan Pradeep, Lahiru Kumara and Kasun Rajitha providing seam and pace and the left-armer Isuru Udana adding the variety alongside the unorthodox left-arm spinner Lakshan Sandakan and the utility all-rounders in Shanaka, Angelo Perera, Shehan Jayasuriya and young Wanindu Hasaranga.
Thirimanne, while addressing the media on Thursday, praised the security arrangements and said the upcoming games provide his players a chance to stake claims for future n selection when the senior stars are available.
“I would say this series against a very good Pakistan side is a good challenge for us, given the fact we’ve come here with a relatively inexperienced squad. But at the same time, we must also respect the decision taken by senior Sri Lankan players of not touring. It’s not about personal decisions because you have to talk about such things with your families before making this kind of decision,” Thirimanne pointed out.
“Our cricket board [Sri Lanka Cricket] provided us the security plans [beforehand] for this trip and what we are going to get here. Personally speaking, I didn’t have concerns about undertaking the tour.
“The focus should be on cricket rather than the security. The boys are really geared up and ready to go. Regarding the challenge we are going to face on the field of play, I must say we would be up against a very good side since Pakistan have named their best [possible] team. But we are going to focus on our performance because we have got a lot of youngsters and it is, obviously, a good opportunity for them to come up and showcase their talent,” he added.
Overall, Pakistan enjoy an overwhelming supremacy over Sri Lanka with 90 victories from 153 One-day Internationals since 1975 and losing 58 while one game being tied and four yielding in no result, including the washed out 2019 World Cup fixture at Bristol last June.
Late in the afternoon as the rains stayed away, both teams had sessions at the far end of the stadium but the outfield looked decidedly soggy underneath the foot.
PAKISTAN: Sarfraz Ahmed (captain), Abid Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Rizwan, Iftikhar Ahmed, Asif Ali, Usman Khan Shinwari.
SRI LANKA: Lahiru Thirimanne (captain), Danushka Gunathilaka, Oshada Fernando, Avishka Fernando, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Shehan Jayasuriya, Dasun Shanaka, Wanindu Hasaranga, Angelo Perera, Minod Bhanuka, Isuru Udana, Nuwan Pradeep, Kasun Rajitha, Lahiru Kumara, Lakshan Sandakan.
Umpires: Ahsan Raza (Pakistan) and Joel Wilson (West Indies).
TV umpire: Michael Gough (England).
Match referee: David Boon (Australia).
Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2019