Pakistan’s batting came good after more than their fair share of troubles in the Test series as they thrashed Sri Lanka by 83 runs in the opening game of the five-match ODI series in Dubai last night.
Babar Azam had a tough time in the Test series, failing to cross 30 in four innings, but delivered in the absence of the scoreboard pressure by notching up his sixth ODI century to lay the foundation for Pakistan’s commanding score of 292-6.
While Azam held one end, Shoaib Malik provided the much needed impetus with a belligerent 61-ball 81 – including five fours and two sixes – that made up for the relatively slow scoring rate of Azam who took 131 balls to make his 103.
In the end, that total proved more than enough as Pakistan bowlers continued their excellent run in white ball cricket, left-arm seamer Rumman Raees leading the way with 3-49 and making up for the absence of Mohammad Amir.
It was Pakistan’s first ODI since the win over India in the Champions Trophy final in June. Since then, Pakistan hosted a World XI at home for three T20s and then incredibly lost the two-Test series to Sri Lanka at their UAE base.
Uncertainty in batting transferred to Pakistan’s ODI top order early on as Ahmed Shehzad took 12 balls for his duck and Pakistan meandered to 36 for one after 10 overs. Champions Trophy final hero Fakhar Zaman batted the only way he knows, hitting 43 off 45 balls. But once Zaman was castled by an Akila Dananjaya wrong’un in the 17th over, Azam’s low scoring rate became a concern.
However, first Mohammad Hafeez (32 off 38 balls) and then fellow veteran all-rounder Malik got going. Malik signalled his intentions early on as he hit the 20th ball he faced for a six, becoming the fifth Pakistan batsman to hit 100 maximums in ODIs.
Malik’s ingenuity came to the fore in the 45th over as he carved two boundaries on the one side off seamer Lahiru Gamage despite four fielders in the deep on the on-side.
Azam reached three figures in the 48th over, making the most of the life he received on 42 when Dinesh Chandimal dropped a tough chance off him at mid wicket.
Sri Lanka’s chase was stymied at the top with left-arm seamer Raees getting appreciable movement off the pitch. He got Niroshan Dickwella (19) to poke at one outside off to the keeper and then trapped batting mainstays Chandimal (4) and later Lahiru Thirimanne (53) lbw with sharp in-swingers.
The chase had effectively ended when Hasan Ali took two wickets off successive balls in the 16th over, first getting Kusal Mendis out hooking to a short ball and then rattling the stumps of Malinda Siriwardana from round the wicket.
By the time leg-spinner Shahdab Khan got a bowl, 25 overs had been bowled and five Sri Lankan batsmen were back in the pavilion.
Dananjaya (50 not out) and leg-spinner Jeffrey Vandersay (25) added 68 for the eighth wicket but the game had been over as a contest long before that.
Change is the buzzword in cricket right now. New playing rules regarding decision review systems, run-outs, bat sizes and penalties for misconduct have come into effect. Maintaining the trend, the International Cricket Council has given the nod to a nine-team Test championship – after the 2019 World Cup – and 13-team ODI league – in 2020 – with the aim of providing greater context to bilateral matches.
The Test championship and ODI league aim to ensure there is a common narrative when it comes to bilateral series and fans know exactly what teams are playing for – a shot at the World Test League Championship final and qualification for the 50-over World Cup respectively.
While the idea to do something different in Tests is commendable, it is difficult to see cricket boards getting anything substantially more out of Test cricket as far as fan engagement is concerned. Ashes matches are regularly witnessed by packed venues in England and Australia while traditional centres in India attract decent crowds.
Outside these countries, one shouldn’t expect a sudden spurt in attendances just because there is a championship to play for. The first Test between Sri Lanka and Pakistan in Abu Dhabi saw low turnout even after attendance was made free.
One-day cricket, however, is a different matter. Even since the rise of T20 cricket, ODIs seemed to be struggling with an identity crisis. Test cricket is the ultimate challenge for a player and performances in the longest format stay etched in the memories of players, teams and fans (those who are interested in it anyway) alike.
Everybody loves T20 and the format never struggles to generate interest, wherever it is played. But ODIs outside ICC tournaments started to look out of place. Teams played as many ODIs as they wanted on a bilateral basis, depending on financial viability and availability of dates.
But once the ODI league starts, every one-dayer will be worth fighting for. Matches will no longer be used as testing grounds for players, at least not regularly. Teams will not look to rest players at the first instance as it will all count towards World Cup qualification.
Since each team will play eight ODI series involving three matches each over a two-year cycle, which will be pushed to three years later on, the days of five and seven-match ODI series seem to be behind us. It can only be good for the overall health of the game.
I am not sure how much more we can get out of Test cricket because those who can’t spare five days for cricket now can’t be expected to set aside that time because there is a final to play for. But ODI cricket can greatly benefit from the new league as teams, players and fans can easily fall back in love with the format that was the apple of everyone’s eye not so long ago.
The third and deciding Twenty20 international between India and Australia was abandoned without a ball being bowled after officials called off play due to a wet outfield in Hyderabad Friday.
India skipper Virat Kohli and Australia’s stand-in captain David Warner shared the honours with the series ending drawn 1-1.
Intermittent rain over the past few days in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad caused wet patches on the ground that refused to dry despite the best efforts of the groundstaff.
The umpires waited for over two hours for conditions to improve, but had to finally call off the game without the near-capacity crowd at the Uppal Stadium even witnessing a toss.
The visitors had levelled the T20 series in Guwahati on Tuesday after a largely disappointing Indian tour that saw them lose the preceding one-day internationals 4-1.
India won the rain-hit T20 opener by nine wickets in Ranchi before the visitors made a remarkable comeback with their eight-wicket win in what turned out to be the final game.
Australia also suffered a major blow ahead of the T20 matches after regular skipper Steve Smith pulled out with an injured shoulder and flew back home.
The Aussies, who lost the Test series in India 2-1 in March, now head into the Ashes, with the first Test against England starting November 23.
— BCCI (@BCCI) October 13, 2017
Meanwhile India are set to host New Zealand for three ODIs and three T20 matches starting October 22 in Mumbai.