It was a cake-walk for Pakistan in the first one-day match at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Friday and if the Sri Lankans do not improve their batting, there could well be a repeat at the same venue today.
Pakistan will go for the kill again as they are determined to prove they are a power in world cricket despite their tarnished image.
Sri Lanka, on the other hand, are passing through one of their toughest phases. Their reputation as a formidable side is slipping and a victory here is vital to lift sagging spirits.
The Sri Lankan management has attributed their poor form to the retirement of top players like Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas — but these two were bowlers and their present problem is with the bat.
Skipper Tillakaratne Dilshan has repeatedly said the failure is not due to technique, but because of poor shot selection. Does this mean psychological reasons?
When asked about whether his players are disturbed by their current contract issue with the board, Dilshan said: “Nobody has discussed the contracts and we have to come to play cricket. We cannot control management issues.”
Though Dilshan has played down this matter, the fact that Sri Lanka Cricket has been dissolved reveals instability. Under these circumstances, it is also no wonder that their national team is not performing. To make matters worse, Duleep Mendis, their chief selector, has hit out at the team that he picked himself.
Sri Lanka need to take a leaf out of Pakistan’s book. Though Pakistan’s image has been badly tarnished with three of their top cricketers being jailed for spot-fixing, their players have maintained their mental focus.
They are also a country in exile, unable to play their series in front of their home crowd. To dominate the Test series and win the first one-day match is a great achievement.
“A victory is a victory whether it is a Test match or one-day cricket,” said Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul-Haq. “It lifts the team’s morale.”
Sri Lankans are historically good players of spin and to bow to Pakistan’s spinners reveals their lack of determination to succeed. Sri Lanka also have a permanent coach in Geoff Marsh, unlike Pakistan, who are depending on stand-in Mohsin Khan.
Marvan Atapattu, Sri Lanka’s batting coach, is a veteran of 90 Test matches and 268 one-dayers and Marsh has played in 50 Tests and 117 50-over games. Together they are a reservoir of knowledge and can easily rectify any batting defect in the team.
Despite all these luxuries, if Sri Lanka continue to crash, then their reasons must be beyond cricket.
Based on their past performances, Sri Lanka began the series as favourites, but with their renewed confidence Pakistan have transformed their opponents into underdogs. Today’s match will confirm which way round it should be.