Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) proposal of staging the final of their three-match T20I series with Sri Lanka at the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore is facing a bleak outcome.
Forty of Sri Lanka’s contracted players have handed a letter to the board indicating that they do not wish to Lahore for the match scheduled for October 29.
According to a report published in Cricbuzz, Sri Lanka players have not ruled out the tour to Pakistan, but has asked the board to consider a venue change.
“SLC will have a quick chat to the players very soon. We don’t intend to disturb them in middle of a series, but we are left with no option but to address the issue. The ICC also will meet the players on Saturday to brief them about the situation in Lahore,” the source told Cricbuzz.
Sri Lanka had faced the brunt of terrorism during their tour of the country in 2009 when their team bus was attacked by armed gunmen in Lahore.
Since then, Pakistan has been forced to play its home matches in the UAE.
Pakistan and Sri Lanka are currently battling out in the UAE in the five-match ODI series which will be followed by a three-match T20I series.
All-rounder Thisara Perera who was part of the ICC World XI which recently participated in the historic Independence Cup in Lahore, is believed to be the only member of the current squad who has not signed the letter addressed to the SLC.
There is still the possibility of the match at Lahore going ahead with a second string Sri Lanka side.
“We are looking at all possibilities. Pakistan has been one our closest allies and we don’t want to let them down,” the SLC source had said.
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.