ON a scale of one to ten, Pakistan would get barely half a mark for the manner in which they got repeatedly humiliated by a second-string Sri Lanka in the recent T20 series. New head coach-cum-chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq now finds himself in a vulnerable state of mind while skipper Sarfraz Ahmed has hardly appeared to be the captain of the world’s top-ranked Twenty20 International side.
Not even in their wildest dreams would Misbah and Sarfraz have envisaged the shocking result of the bilateral T20 series in which Sri Lanka outsmarted the hosts in every department. In all three games the visitors expressed themselves brilliantly and their execution of the game-plans — methodically devised by interim coach and former player Rumesh Ratnayake — was exemplary.
In Dasun Shanaka, Sri Lanka cricket has found someone who can lead the island in the shortest format on regular basis, regardless of Lasith Malinga making the expected comeback for the trip to Australia — where Sri Lanka will have to go through the qualifying stage to make the cut for Twenty20 World Cup — coming up shortly. Shanaka’s was a calming presence in the field and the way he utilized the bowling resources showed he’s got the flair to be a shrewd skipper.
Wanindu Hasaranga, in hindsight, wouldn’t have dreamt of emerging as the star performer of the series with his mixtures of leg-spinners and googlies. The 22-year-old made his T20 International debut only at the start of September when New Zealand visited Sri Lanka. But over the past few days in Lahore, his meteoric rise has everyone talking of this young all-rounder from Galle, as those eight wickets (at a miserly average of 9.87 and a sensational strike-rate of nine balls per victim) speak of volume of his immense talent.
The Gaddafi Stadium pitches were generally helpful to both pace and spin bowlers. Seamers Nuwan Pradeep (seven wickets at 6.57 with a strike of six balls per wicket) and Isuru Udana (five wickets at 9.80) comfortably outshone their Pakistani counterparts — Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz — and although Mohammad Hasnain grabbed a hat-trick in the first T20, the visitors were miles ahead.
Sri Lanka were the dominant side on the batting front by quite a distance. Bhanuka Rajapaksa marked his second international with a robust 77 and Oshada Fernando made a memorable T20 International debut by scoring an unbeaten 78 in game three after Danushka Gunathilaka starred in the first encounter with 57.
Pakistan had just a solitary individual half-century to show with Haris Sohail 50 in the last game first match of the rubber when Sri Lanka had already sealed up the series. The failure of Babar Azam complicated matters further as the world’s No.1 T20 batsman scored just 27, 3 and 13 while Pakistan’s opening partnerships yielded 0, 9 and 13 across these three matches. The team’s inability to score heavily in the Powerplay also hurt Pakistan deeply.
In contrast to what Shanaka offered in his maiden series as captain, Sarfraz looked stressed out on the field of play as well as when he batted in the hope of a significant score, something he had not achieved for a while now. His cause was not helped by poor catching and misfields from his team-mates. Even the captain was guilty of missing simple opportunities behind the stumps.
By his own admission, Misbah knows the repercussions of the whitewash against the seventh-ranked side roughly a year from the T20 World Cup in Australia with a number of questions to answer. The critics — as the customary norm in our part of the world — have their knives sharpened to take him down, and Sarfraz too.
Pakistan never played like the No.1 team at any given stage of the series during Sri Lanka had the great advantage of setting the targets and every time the hosts crumbled in the run chase. And although both Pakistan and Sri Lanka retained their previous rankings in the latest ICC team standings, the shattering defeats have opened a Pandora’s Box regarding the national team’s abilities to withstand pressure.
During the post-series media conference the other night at the Gaddafi Stadium, Misbah and Sarfraz appeared clueless about the hard-hitting questions fired at them. Despite not playing at home until now, Pakistan had no business to surrender so meekly. They had the best win-loss ratio — 2.6 — among all teams who have at least 15 Twenty20 Internationals over the past two years during which they won 21 of 29 matches.
Empowering Misbah to the extent that he’s regarded as the most powerful man of Pakistan cricket has already has had its repercussions quite evident within the first five weeks of his appointment. The ex-skipper had replaced both Mickey Arthur and Inzamam-ul-Haq as head coach-cum-chief selector in what PCB termed as a revolutionary step in Pakistan cricket.
Having struck the right note by winning the One-day International series 2-0 in Karachi after the opening fixture of that rubber was washed out, the country’s most successful Test skipper has suddenly hit rock-bottom in his new position. In this fast-paced modern world, Misbah doesn’t have the luxury of getting back to the drawing board for that long since the tour of Australia is just round the corner.
The wisdom of recalling Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal was one decision that based on taking risks, given the duo’s troubled past. In the end, Misbah was left to rue their inclusion as both batsmen proved huge flops. One can now safely assume that whatever they achieve — whether in the National T20 Cup or the Pakistan Super League — there is no point in picking them again.
There are more deserving candidates in the batting department on the playing circuit than the tried and failed Shehzad and Akmal who somehow keep on coming back into the team without making any impact whatsoever. With a new system of domestic setup already in the rolling this season, Misbah will surely have to look elsewhere to avoid a repeat of this episode.
While Sri Lanka outplayed Pakistan in every department of the T20 series, the timing of this happening so early allows Misbah to do a complete — and honest— rethinking of those plans that he had penned in the recent weeks. With a year still left for the T20 World Cup in Australia, Pakistan have time on their side to start the rebuilding process as swiftly as they can with series against Australia and England (next year) already confirmed and Bangladesh also scheduled to play them early next year.
Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2019