Very rarely does a match delight both the winning and losing teams. The Pakistan versus Sri Lanka Asia Cup T20 league encounter at Mirpur in Dhaka on Friday was one such extraordinary occasion.
Though inconsequential so far as Asia Cup is concerned, the match nevertheless was a test and an opportunity for two fragile batting line-ups to get their act together.
Pakistan, in particular, have a very potent bowling attack. Some of their bowlers are among the best in business. But as a heavyweight international side and potential World T20 title contenders, their batting is a bit of a joke.
Sri Lanka, on the other hand, have a toothless bowling attack. In the context of T20 cricket their attack can be called adequate at best. And like Pakistan, their rivals on the night, batting is Sri Lanka’s bug bear too.
Under these circumstances, the teams got what was actually the best batting surface of the current tournament. For once the ball did not dart around off the seam as much as it did in earlier matches. The pitch was firmer and was a lot more conducive for stroke play. In short, it was just the setting for Sri Lankan batsmen to step up and be counted.
Opener Tillakaratne Dilshan, who at his prime was a wonderfully innovative batsman, turned the clock back to warm the cockles of his countrymen’s hearts. He had his problems, but rode his luck and manfully carried his bat through for a confidence-boosting innings of 75 off 56 balls.
The 18 runs that Dilshan took off left-arm spinner Mohammed Nawaz in the last of the power play overs showed that he had lost none of his instincts to seize an opportunity.
Indeed Dilshan’s knock and the 110-run opening partnership he enjoyed with stand-in skipper Dinesh Chandimal (58 off 49 balls) was a marvellous example of batsmanship.
The duo batted till the 15th over against a top notch bowling attack before Chandimal, easily Sri Lanka’s best batsman, was dismissed. The islanders made a competitive 150 for 4 from their quota of 20 overs.
Pakistan, too, would be thrilled to bits by the return to form of Umar Akmal (48). He is one of their batting mainstays and they need him to perform fearlessly in the upcoming World T20. Veteran Shoaib Malik (13 n.o.) once again lent stability in a 56-run stand with Akmal and it is obvious that Pakistan would be leaning on his shoulder a lot more in the near future.
Opener Sharjeen Khan (31) and Sarfraz Ahmed (38) showed that they had the temperament to chase a stiff target. Pakistan need this sort of assurance especially as skipper Shahid Afridi is so incredibly inconsistent and unable to keep his head in tough situations.
It is not just the batting that both teams need to worry about. Their fielding ‘prowess’, particularly Pakistan’s, is straight out of 19th century. Afridi’s men let off Dilshan thrice – at 6, 7 and 64 and were generally so sloppy that they’d make Ashish Nehra look like Jonty Rhodes!
T20 matches thrive on closely fought games that are often decided by less than half-a-dozen runs or 3 or 4 balls. For all of Pakistan’s brilliance in bowling, their pathetic fielding leave them at a perennial disadvantage.
Pakistan’s group opponents in the World T20 -- India, Australia and New Zealand, besides one qualifiers, all have brilliant fielders. Pakistan are certain to come across as inadequate in this aspect.
Sri Lanka’s fielding is not as disgraceful but they too have stragglers, particularly Rangana Herath. Nuwan Kulasekhara’s dropping of Shoaib Malik that fetched Pakistan the winning run with four balls and six wickets to spare, would also rankle them.
Thus while the teams would be pleased with the confidence their batsmen regained from this mach, the fielding almost took the sheen off the gains.
On the plus side, both Pakistan and Sri Lanka have relatively easy matches in the World T20 openers. They take on the winners and runners-up, respectively, from the group that holds Zimbabwe, Scotland, Hong Kong and Afghanistan and their matches would be in Kolkata where the climatic conditions would be similar to Mirpur. Thus, as far as acclimatisation goes, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are on a better wicket than England or even South Africa and New Zealand.