Pakistan vs Sri Lanka 2019: 3 players Pakistan would hope will return to form in the series
Pakistan will be taking on Sri Lanka on Friday to initiate the start of a historic 3 match ODI series in National Stadium, Karachi - a venue that last hosted an ODI back in 2009 and has not seen any international cricket since. The last time Pakistan lost an ODI to Sri Lanka was in 2015. This was back when the likes of Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, and Usman Shinwari were not even part of the Pakistani camp. Since then, they have won six consecutive ODIs against Sri Lanka.
After a washout of their World Cup game, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will now compete in ODIs for the first time in almost two years. Due to initial security concerns, a majority of key Sri Lankan players pulled out of the tour, leaving behind a far less threatening side for Pakistan to deal with. Since 2017, the Sri Lankan side's ODI form has been so abysmal that they have managed to win just 18 of their 65 matches. Pakistan, on the other hand, have been a much more menacing force in ODIs. After a relatively good World Cup display that almost earned them a semi-final spot, they finally seem to be getting their winning plans in order.
Now, with a full-strength Pakistani team operating in home territory against a weakened Sri Lankan side, it is likely that the Men in Green will make an absolute meal of this series. However, despite it being a relatively less competitive tour, Pakistan still have a lot to gain from performing exceptionally well.
In the light of their tour to Australia later this year, they will want their best players to fire on all cylinders and gather enough confidence to replicate those performances in Australia.
With this in mind, there are at least three players whose performances the Pakistani camp will be watching very closely in the shorter format, in particular, hoping for their return to form.
#1 Fakhar Zaman
Fakhar Zaman has not had the best of years in terms of run accumulation so far. He averages just 30.72 in 2019 with just a single 100+ score in 18 innings. Pakistan will be hoping for a return to form for the man who was integral to them winning the Champions Trophy in 2017. In 2018, he topped the run-scoring charts in ODIs for Pakistan.
If Pakistan are to triumph over Australia later this year, then Pakistan's top order will have to shoulder the responsibility of scoring the bulk of the runs. In such a scenario, Fakhar’s performances against Sri Lanka will largely determine whether he will remain part of those plans.
#2 Shadab Khan
Since 2017, Shadab Khan has been the man Pakistan has relied on to pick wickets in the middle overs. His bowling form is essentially directly correlated to how many runs Pakistan gives away in the middle. In 2019, he has picked up just 14 wickets from 12 matches at a mediocre average of 40.92 and an economy rate of 5.56. This dip in form has hurt Pakistan immensely since they do not have many leg-spin alternatives who can replace Shadab in the shorter format.
Additionally, Shadab’s average in the last two years had stayed around 25 with an economy below 5, which had suggested that he would become part of Pakistan’s long-term plans. With home advantage and spinning tracks on offer, Pakistan will be hoping that the leggie is amongst the wickets again.
#3 Asif Ali
Having played just 18 ODIs and 20 T20Is with no significant gains, Pakistan would want Asif Ali to display the form he has shown over the years in PSL. His ability to perform prolifically at a strike rate of around 160-180 has been the highlight of his domestic T20 career. With Pakistan lacking power hitters down the order, they would want Asif Ali to finally be able to replicate that on the international stage. He would, more or less, be expected to at least score a few quick-fire fifties in the first innings and show the ability to complete a chase with pinch-hitting in the second.
With these three in form, alongside the likes of Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Mohammad Amir and Imad Wasim, Pakistan’s side should start to look as tough as it did back in the 2017 Champions Trophy. As such, their goal then will not only be to defeat Sri Lanka in every match this series but defeat them in dominating fashion.