Pakistan will eye a series-clinching win over Sri Lanka as the two sides get ready to meet in the third and final ODI at Karachi on Wednesday.
Sarfraz Ahmed and his men have one hand on the bilateral trophy after taking a 1-0 lead in the series and they will look to finish the job against the islanders to give head coach and chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq the perfect start to his tenure.
The hosts proved too good for the Lankans in the second ODI on Monday with Babar Azam’s 11th ton setting up a commanding win, but they will target further improvements with the ball after allowing the visitors to recover from a shaky start.
Sri Lanka had been reduced to 28-5 in their daunting run chase of 308 but were propelled by a 177-run stand for the sixth wicket between Shehan Jayasuriya and Dasun Shanaka to give the hosts an almighty scare.
“We have to improve our lines and lengths in the middle overs. The way we batted, the score was good,” skipper Sarfraz had stated after the 67-run win.
The wicketkeeper batsman has promised to ring the changes for Pakistan, which will come as welcome news for the likes of Mohammad Hasnain, Abid Ali and Mohammad Nawaz who missed the cut in Monday’s clash.
“We’ll try to give everyone a chance through this series, even the guys on our bench are first priority players for us,” Sarfraz explained.
For the rejigged visitors who are missing a host of star names such as Lasith Malinga and Dimuth Karunarante, Wednesday’s clash will be another opportunity for youngsters to grab their chance.
“It was a great effort by Shehan and Dasun,” stand-in skipper Lahiru Thirimanne said after the second ODI.
Pakistan batting ace @babarazam258 celebrated the return of ODI cricket to National Stadium Karachi by securing a spot on the NSK Honours Board. Well played Babar, we have more space available for you, seal it!#PAKvSL pic.twitter.com/1yaaHUUvRd— Pakistan Cricket (@TheRealPCB) October 1, 2019
“Shehan took the chance and batted really well. It’s (Pakistan tour) a great opportunity, the youngsters should make the most of it.”
Should Pakistan be able to trumph in the third ODI, it will be their first bilateral series win over 14 months with their previous victory coming against Zimbabwe (5-0) in July last year.
The hosts will also hope for a better turnout at the National Stadium in Karachi after sparse crowds greeted the two teams in the second ODI. This is despite the clash being termed as international cricket’s homecoming to the city after a gap of nearly 10 years.
Pakistan: Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Abid Ali, Sarfraz Ahmed (c and wk), Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Amir, Usman Shinwari, and Mohammad Hasnain.
Sri Lanka: Dasushka Gunathilaka, Sadeera Samarawickrama (wk), Avishka Fernando, Oshada Fernando, Shehan Jayasuriya, Lahiru Thirimanne (c), Dasun Shanaka, Wanindu Hasaranga, Isuru Udana, Lahiru Kumara and Nuwan Pradeep.
Pakistan will reportedly take on Ireland and the Netherlands in limited-overs clashes prior to their tour of England in 2020.
The Men in Green are slated to take on England in three Tests and as many T20s in the summer next year with the opening clash scheduled to begin on July 30.
According to a report by Geo TV, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) have been able to finalise a total of five limited-overs clashes against the Dutch and Irish in the lead up to the tour of England.
The report states that the Men in Green will take on Netherlands first up in a three-match ODI series before they lock horns with Ireland in two T20 clashes. The five matches are expected to take place in the month of July ahead of the three-match Test series between England and Pakistan.
An official announcement for the same is expected soon by the PCB.
For Netherlands, it will be the first ODI meeting against Pakistan since their 97-run loss to the Men in Green in the 2003 ICC World Cup in South Africa. The two teams have met thrice in the format previously with Pakistan prevailing on every single occasion.
Ireland, meanwhile, have played Pakistan only once previously in the T20 format with the Men in Green emerging victors by 39 runs during the 2009 World T20 clash between the two sides at the Oval in London.
Pakistan are currently involved in an ongoing ODI series against Sri Lanka at Karachi with the third and final match set to take place at the National Stadium on Wednesday. The two teams will then move on to Lahore for the T20I leg of the tour with the three-match series slated to begin on October 5.
The threat of rain looms large over all five days of the opening Test with the latest forecast predicting an almost 80 per cent chance of showers on day one itself.
While the two teams will be wary of the prospect of a rain-curtailed game, they will have their eyes firmly fixated on the big prize, with 120 vital ICC World Test Championship points on offer in the series.
Saha beats Pant to wicketkeeping slot
Young Rishabh Pant might have become the first Indian wicketkeeper to register overseas Test tons in England and Australia last year but it is veteran Wriddhiman Saha who will take the gloves for the hosts in the upcoming three-match series.
The 34-year-old’s last Test appearance came against South Africa at the start of 2018 with subsequent shoulder injuries opening the door for Pant to make his debut in the format.
To drop a wicketkeeper who averages more than 44 with the bat is a bold call by skipper Virat Kohli who has termed Saha as the best pure glovesman in the world.
“Saha’s keeping credentials are there for everyone to see. He’s played well for us whenever he’s got a chance with the bat for us also,” Kohli stated.
“It was unfortunate that he was out for such a long period with an injury, and according to me he’s the best keeper in the world. In these conditions, and with what he’s done for us in the past, he’ll start for us.”
Spotlight firmly on Rohit after poor warm-up outing
Along with dropping the big news of Saha’s return to the playing XI, Kohli more or less confirmed that Rohit Sharma will open the batting for the hosts alongside Mayank Agarwal.
“We are in no hurry with Rohit Sharma as opener. He will be given time and space to find his rhythm and the way he wants to play at the top,” said Kohli in his pre-match address to the media.
The India limited-overs deputy skipper’s Test record screams average so far, especially in overseas conditions where he averages less than 27. While his home record is more than handy, Rohit’s display against the Proteas in the recent practice game has thrown further doubts over his suitability to red-ball cricket.
After being dismissed for a second-ball duck by Vernon Philander, the spotlight will only intensify on Rohit in the coming series with his vulnerabilities against quality swing and seam well known.
In fact, Philander and Kagiso Rabada have already had the beating of him three times apiece in the past in Tests, and the South African new-ball bowlers will most definitely pose a rigorous examination of Rohit’s technique once again.
Visitors looking to break India’s home dominance
South Africa were resoundingly thrashed 3-0 the last time (2015-16) they toured India for a Test series and a lot has changed for the visitors. Stalwarts such as Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn have moved on and it is very much a transitional and relatively inexperienced Proteas Test side that travels.
While they will be boosted by the return of their regular skipper Faf du Plessis, the visitors have their task cut out against the No1 ranked hosts who are targeting a record 11th Test series win on home soil. Still, Du Plessis and his men are not to be taken lightly and they showed plenty of grit and determination in the recently drawn T20 series against India.
One of the key men who could give the hosts plenty of trouble is Philander and the ace seamer wants the senior players in the side to step up in India.
“The spotlight will be on a lot of big players to make a statement,” said Philander.
“Our job is to come here and give the first punch as India is obviously expected to do well. It’s a tough start playing India in India but I don’t think the South Africans would have wanted it any other way.”
India: Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravi Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami.
South Africa: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Faf du Plessis (c), Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Zubayr Humza, Quinton de Kock (wk), Keshav Maharaj, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi.