Pakistan will target another whitewash when they meet Sri Lanka in the first of three-Twenty20 Internationals in Abu Dhabi on Thursday (October 26).
Pakistan’s limited-overs form, with their bowling devastating opponent after opponent, saw them whitewash Sri Lanka 5-0 in the One-Day International series which concluded on Monday and with their Twenty20 form even better, they will start the shortest format as firm favourites.
If Pakistan, currently ranked No. 2 in the ICC T20I rankings, win all three matches, they will come within a point of top-ranked New Zealand. If New Zealand then lose their Twenty20 series against India next month, it will lift Pakistan to the No. 1 spot.
Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed (capt, wk), Fakhar Zaman, Ahmed Shehzad, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Aamer Yamin, Mohammad Amir, Usman Shinwari, Umar Amin.
Sri Lanka: Thisara Perera (capt), Dilshan Munaweera, Danushka Gunathilaka, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Ashan Priyanjan, Mahela Udawatte, Dasun Shanaka, Minod Bhanuka (wk), Sachith Pathirana, Vikum Sanjaya, Lahiru Gamage, Seekkuge Prasanna, Vishwa Fernando, Isuru Udana, Jeffrey Vandersay, Chaturanga de Silva.
Sarfraz Ahmed, under whom Pakistan have won nine of their 11 T20Is, described the ODI series win as satisfying and promised that there would be no let-up in the shortest format.
“It was highly satisfying to win 5-0 because all the players have done well in all three departments,” said Sarfraz. “The best thing is that youngsters have done well and made an impact whenever they got a chance.”
India had done that same favour to Pakistan last year, allowing their arch-rivals to briefly rise to the No. 1 Test ranking.
But the Pakistan captain does not rate Sri Lanka as weak, even though their selectors were forced to announce a new look-team once Upul Tharanga, the regular skipper, Suranga Lakmal, Chamara Kapugedera, Akila Dananjaya and Lasith Malinga all pulled out of the tour due to security fears, what with the last match of the series due to be held in Lahore and the selectors determined to name the same squad for all three matches.
“Maybe they don’t have big names but they have played for Sri Lanka in the past and have done well,” Sarfraz said. “No team is weak in T20s, the team which plays well on the day will win and we will take every game as equally important.”
Pakistan’s pace department, their main weapon in the rise in ODIs since winning the Champions Trophy in England in June, will welcome the return of spearhead Mohammad Amir, who missed the 50-over games with a shin injury.
“Yes, Amir will be back and that adds to our weapons in bowling,” said Sarfraz, who will miss T20 specialist Rumman Raees, ruled out with an elbow injury.
Mohammad Hafeez, the experienced batsman, will boost both the bowling and the batting before he travels to Loughborough for an assessment of his bowling action, which was reported as suspect last week.
Tharanga’s pull-out has handed the captaincy to Thisara Perera, the allrounder becoming Sri Lanka’s seventh captain across the three formats this year. While taking pride in being given the captaincy, Perera hoped the new-look team would do something special.
“I am very proud to lead the country,” said Perera. “It’s a new-look team but I have confidence that this team can do something special.”
Danushka Gunathilaka, the left-hand batsman, is back after his six-month ban was reduced to three by Sri Lanka Cricket while Sadeera Samarawickrama will get another chance after failing in the ODI series. Minod Bhanuka is the other uncapped player, and he will replace Niroshan Dickwella after the wicketkeeper-batsman opted out of the series. Mahela Udawatte, the offspiner, will replace Dananjaya, having last played for the country in 2009.
Sri Lanka, ranked No. 8 in Twenty20s, have had a good season, beating South Africa and Australia 2-1 and drawing 1-1 against Bangladesh. Their last outing in a T20I, however, ended in defeat at the hands of India.
The second match will also be in Abu Dhabi on Friday while the last match will be played in Lahore on Sunday.