Pakistan vs Sri Lanka. T20I series. Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore. Leading into the series and especially after the cream of Sri Lanka first-choice XI made themselves unavailable for the tour, people shrugged it off as a ‘No Contest’.
But, hang on! It wouldn’t be Sport if everything was too predictable. And, Sri Lanka is at their dangerous best when everyone writes them off. Ask South Africa, who made the same mistake, and duly suffered a humiliating 0-2 Test series defeat in their own den. Ask England, maybe, whose World Cup campaign turned upside down and nearly collapsed following a shocking group-stage defeat against the 1996 champions.
Well! Don’t worry bothering South Africa or England anymore, make way for the newest entrant in the list: Pakistan. So, why exactly is this 3-0 hammering of the No.1 ranked side in the world so significant?
Here’s a look at the five possible reasons:
Pakistan’s No.1 T20I rank
It was expected to be a stroll in the park! Wasn’t it? A fairytale homecoming in front of their own loyalists. And, there were enough reasons to be ecstatic owing to their respective positions in the ICC T20I rankings. Pakistan is currently ranked No.1 side in the world while the Sri Lankans have been struggling in white-ball cricket ever since the retirement of legends like Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, and Tillakaratne Dilshan.
In fact, the situation was so dire for the 2014 World Twenty20 champions, that they found themselves reeling at the ninth spot at the end of the qualification window for the next quadrennial event in Australia, and will now have to play the Qualifiers in order to compete in next year’s T20 World Cup alongside Bangladesh and the other associate nations.
Recent form against Pakistan
When Sri Lanka last beat Pakistan, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, and Tillakaratne Dilshan were still a few years away from retirement, Philip Hughes was still alive, MS Dhoni still had one year of Test cricket left in him, Donald Trump was still three years away from becoming the President of the United States of America (USA).
13 December 2013. Dubai. Yep! Five years, nine months and 28 days, it took this much amount of time for Sri Lanka to finally snap that sequence of a six-match losing streak, and that too against a full-strength Pakistan side in their own den. And with a team that had as many as seven players with an experience of fewer than seven T20Is, it’s an upset for the ages.
Contrasting forms of both teams leading into the series
Both teams couldn’t have come into the series with more contrasting fortunes. Coming into this series, Pakistan had lost just five out of their 18 completed fixtures since the start of 2018; that’s the exact number of T20Is Sri Lanka have lost this year (1 win in seven games in T20Is before this series).
And, if one compares with their record since the start of 2018, the island nation had won the same number of games (5 wins in 15 games) since Jan 2018 before the start of this series) that Pakistan has lost.
In fact, one look at the W/L ratio for all sides since January 2018 up until the start of this series and one’ll realize the magnanimity of what has just transpired. While Pakistan had an overall Win/Loss ratio of 3.600 (18 wins, 5 defeats), one will have to scroll down the screen to see where Sri Lanka is languishing. And, the numbers will leave one gobsmacked!
Since the start of 2018, countries like P.N.G (8 wins in 9 matches), Germany (7 wins in 10 matches), Namibia (7 wins in 7 matches), Nepal (7 wins in 13 matches), Ireland (6 wins in 19 games), and Qatar (6 wins in 12 games) and many other newbies, had more wins and a better W/L ratio than Sri Lanka’s 5 (from 13 games) and 0.555 respectively.
Well! That pretty much puts the significance of this achievement into a real context.
Exuberance of youth trumps the tried-and-tested template
Well! One can turn around and say that Sri Lanka didn’t have any option but to send their bench-strength after the major chunk of their established players had opted out of the tour.
Yes! That’s true. But, forget about Sri Lanka for a moment (don’t). Let’s look at what Pakistan did in this series. Instead of using this series as a means 0f giving chances to the youngsters to bolster their bench-strength, what did Misbah and Co do? They brought back tried and tested 32-year-olds into the set-up, once again vindicating the well-established fact that Pakistani cricket is obsessed with embracing mediocrity. It still keeps its faith in familiar faces rather than unleashing new talent.
Sri Lanka’s win was not only a reflection of a group of talented and driven youngsters who were ready to cash-in 0n any iota of opportunity that they got, but it also served as a lesson as to what can be achieved if one invests in the youth. One may lose, but at least Pakistan learnt it the harsh way, though!
Replacements of replacements proved to be too good in the end
Tell me honestly, did one in their wildest dreams think Sri Lanka, who was being ridiculed as a ‘B’ team after they were forced to field their bench following the senior players backing out of the tour, will rest the replacements of replacements and still end-up winning the whole thing?
One would be kidding oneself, if one say, Yes! For, not even a die-hard Sri Lankan cricket romantic would have foreseen that. But, that is the beauty of sports. Its unpredictability is what keeps the audience at the edge of the seat. It also told that when one have nothing to lose, one play fearless cricket with zero-to-little baggage.
In every game, Sri Lanka found themselves a new star who was focussed on showcasing his craft and character to the whole world. While it was Danushka Gunathilaka and Bhanuka Rajapaksa in the first two games, it was the turn of Oshada Fernando to lead from the front.
And, to think that none of the Sri Lanka batsmen who made half-centuries on this tour (Danushka Gunathilaka, Dasun Shanaka, Shehan Jayasuriya, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, and Oshada Fernando) were in the World Cup squad, is beyond mind-boggling!
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