While one 23-year-old in Babar Azam is creating a name for himself with the bat, another Pakistan bowler of the same age is creating waves with the ball recently in ODI cricket.
Pacer Hasan Ali became the quickest Pakistan player to claim 50 wickets in the 50-over game when his 5-34 destroyed Sri Lanka’s batting lineup in the third ODI between the two sides on Wednesday at A.
The islanders were eventually bowled out in the 49th over setting Pakistan a chase of 209.
The 23-year-old pacer’s five-wicket haul was the third of his only 24-match career ever since making his debut against Ireland in August last year.
The right-arm bowler has achieved a half-century of wickets in a shorter span of matches than Pakistan greats like Waqar Younis, Saqlain Mushtaq and Shoaib Akhtar.
Ali is now also the highest wicket-taker in 2017 having claimed 40 wickets so far. He overtook England’s Liam Plunkett and Rashid Khan who both have 36 scalps each to their name.
The pacer has had a dream 2017 with his three five-wicket hauls coming in this span of time having earlier done the same to Australia and West Indies.
With this feat Ali becomes only the fourth Pakistan bowler to achieve three fivers in a calendar year and the ninth in the world. The last bowler from the country to do so was Shahid Afridi in 2011.
He played a vital role in Pakistan’s dream run to the title of the ICC Champions Trophy earlier this year in England where he picked up 13 wickets in five matches.
With Azam becoming the fastest to seven ODI centuries and Ali having a sensational start to his career, Pakistan’s future in the limited-overs format looks very promising indeed.
Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed insists there’s no reason why he should move himself up the batting order, saying he’s happy with the team combination ahead of Monday’s second ODI against Sri Lanka.
Questions have been raised that Sarfraz, who bats at number six in the line-up, should be promoted up the order due to his aggressive instinct.
The last time Sarfraz batted higher than sixth was in fifth against the West Indies 12 months ago, scoring unbeaten knocks of 60 and 24 in the UAE. Prior to that, he had managed scores of 55, 105, 38, 12 and 90 in the same position after Mohammad Hafeez was absent in the ODI series during their England tour in 2016.
But following the team’s 83-run victory in the first ODI in Dubai on Friday, where Hafeez and Shoaib Malik scored 32 and 81, the team has no plans to tinker with their line-up for the second ODI in Abu Dhabi.
“The England ODI series was last year so at that time we had a different combination because Hafeez was not there,” said the 30-year-old. “Here in Dubai, Hafeez played well at number four and Shoaib Malik played well also, so the team comes first and I want to keep that same combination.”
Sarfraz will be counting on the same team to prevail on Monday after confirming an unchanged 11 but wants the batsmen to rotate the strike in the capital.
“There are a few things to address,” he said. “We missed a few things. In Dubai, the first 10 overs we didn’t take singles so it’s important to address but otherwise the team’s overall performance was good.
“We played well in Dubai overall, so the expectations are high going into the second game. We have done good preparation. We will do our best but we want to take it one game at a time.”
For Sri Lanka, their preparation for the match has been overshadowed whether the T20 side will travel to Lahore for the final game of the three-match series later this month.
Media were told before the press conference that skipper Upul Tharanga will not comment on the case until the Sri Lankan board makes the decision on Monday whether they will fly to Pakistan for the first time since the militant’s attack on the team bus in 2009.
The team’s immediate concern is bouncing back from the ODI defeat in Dubai. Their record with the white ball has been poor with their last series win coming almost a year ago in the tri-series involving Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and West Indies in November 2016.
— Denzil M Pinto (@denz_360) October 15, 2017
Tharanga made it clear the batting is an area that needs major improvement if they are to turn around their poor form after Lahiru Thirimanne and Akila Dananjaya only scored fifties in Dubai.
“Last few seasons this has happened,” said Tharanga, who is searching for his first series win as captain since being appointed in July. “We need big knocks and if you need big totals someone has to go onto post a big total. Babar Azam got a hundred for Pakistan as they got close to 300. In ODIs, one batsman needs to score big and that is the only way forward to post decent totals.
“This series when it started we spoke about batting because batting has let us down over the last few series. We tried to tell the players what is their role. All the players are aware of their roles. I hope from tomorrow [Tuesday] onwards we will come up with good batting efforts.”
Pakistan are counting on a change in format and players to overcome a resurgent Sri Lanka in the five-match one-day series starting in Dubai from Friday.
Pakistan were upset 2-0 in the preceding Test series but they are hoping to change their fortunes and carry the limited over form which helped them win the eight-nation Champions Trophy held in England in June this year.
They only have skipper Sarfraz Ahmed, batsmen Haris Sohail and Babar Azam and fast bowler Hasan Ali from the Test series, while experienced allrounder Mohammad Hafeez and opener Ahmed Shahzad amongst the 11 who joined the squad.
Ahmed feels the pressure of losing his first Test series but promised a better performance in the limited over matches.
“Obviously, when you have a first Test series as captain, and you lose it, pressure will be there,” said Ahmed who played a match winning 61 not out against Sri Lanka in the Champions Trophy group match.
“But we will try and get out of that. Our one-day team is balanced and our record is very good. We will have some senior players returning and I hope we’ll play better cricket.”
Pakistan also have a young crop of fast emerging players in opener Fakhar Zaman – who hit a century in the Champions Trophy final against India – leg-spinner Shadab Khan, allrounders Imad Wasim and Faheem Ashraf, and pacers Rumman Raees, Junaid Khan and Usman Shinwari.
Spearhead Mohammad Amir was ruled out of the series with a shin injury sustained in the second Test in Dubai.
Pakistan’s loss in the Test series was their first in United Arab Emirates in 10 attempts since they were forced to play at a neutral venue amidst security fears sparked after 2009 terrorists’ attacks on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore.
— PCB Official (@TheRealPCB) October 12, 2017
But their one-day record in UAE has been abysmal, having lost nine of the 12 series since 2009, only winning twice against Sri Lanka and once against the West Indies.
Sri Lanka have come from wretched one-day form, having lost 16 of their last 21 games, winning four with one no result. That included a 5-0 whitewash against South Africa and India and first-ever series defeat against minnows Zimbabwe.
That defeat against India last month put pressure on skipper Upul Tharanga.
“We lacked consistency. We didn’t bat, bowl or field well. We were outplayed by India. I am disappointed with our batting effort,” said Tharanga whose team failed to reach 250 in any of the matches.
The remaining matches are in Abu Dhabi (16 and 18 October) and Sharjah (October 20 and 23). Three Twenty20 matches will follow the ODIs, two in Abu Dhabi (October 26 and 27) and the last in Lahore (October 29).
Teams (from): Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed (capt), Ahmed Shehzad, Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Hafeez, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Imad Wasim, Shahdab Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Usman Shinwari, Ruman Raees, Junaid Khan, Haris Sohail, Imam-ul-Haq.
Sri Lanka: Upul Tharanga (capt), Dinesh Chandimal, Niroshan Dickwella,Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Mendis, Milinda Siriwardana, Chamara Kapugedara, Thisara Perera, Seekuge Prasanna, Nuwan Pradeep, Suranga Lakmal, Dushmantha Chameera, Vishwa Fernando, Akila Dananjaya, Jeffrey Vandersay.
Umpires: Sundaram Ravi (IND) and Ahsan Raza (PAK).
TV umpire: Richard Kettleborough (ENG).
ICC match referee: Andy Pycroft (ZIM).