After the humiliation in the test series at the hands of Sri Lanka, it looked like the Lankans would give Pakistan a tough time in the ODIs as well. But it didn't happen. Pakistan cruised to a 5-0 whitewash of Sri Lankans in the UAE after an abysmal test series. Pakistan’s great form in ODIs continues after the team unexpectedly lifted up the Champions Trophy in England in June this year.
Pakistan’s rise to prominence in the one-day format of the game has been incredible and there have been a few telling factors. The most important being the leadership of Sarfraz Ahmad. Under his leadership, Pakistan is now on a run of 9 consecutive wins in ODIs. Before Sarfraz, under Azhar Ali’s leadership, Pakistan slipped to its record low 9th in ODI rankings. Pakistan barely scraped into the Champions Trophy, which featured the top 8 teams and Pakistan was ranked 8th courtesy a series win against Zimbabwe. Under Azhar, Pakistan won only 12 games (mostly against Zimbabwe, Ireland and West Indies) while lost 18. After the 4-1 series loss against Australia, Azhar stepped down as Pakistan’s ODI captain and in came Sarfraz. Ever since, Pakistan have been on the rise. No one in their right cricketing minds gave Pakistan any chance in the Champions Trophy but under Sarfraz’s captaincy, Pakistan outperformed everyone and won the only ICC trophy they hadn’t up until that point. Sarfraz is not new to the captaincy game since it was under his leadership that Pakistan claimed the 2006 ICC Under-19 World Cup, ironically then too beating India to the title just like the Champions Trophy 2017 final. Sarfraz’s bowling changes, field positions, his confidence and decision making have been impeccable. Pakistan looked like an entirely different outfit in the ODI series against Sri Lanka, having been beaten in the tests. They didn’t even let Sri Lanka have a sniff and won all the 5 matches super convincingly and a lot of credit goes to the inspired leadership of Sarfraz, who seems set to lead Pakistan for a long time to come, at least in the shorter formats of the game that is.
Another telling factor was Pakistan’s incredible bowling unit. Despite the absence of Muhammad Amir (who was out due to injury he suffered in the 2nd test), Pakistan looked like an unfazed bowling unit. Hassan Ali has been the pick of bowlers for Pakistan having taken the most wickets in 2017 in the world. He has taken 45 wickets this year in just 18 games. His strike rate is synonymous to that of Waqar Younis’s in his prime. Hassan Ali also beat Waqar Younis to become the fastest man to take 50 wickets in the ODIs for Pakistan. His great performances this year has resulted in Hassan Ali becoming only the 2nd Pakistani in history to top the ODI rankings for bowlers after the great Wasim Akram.
To complement his great form, Pakistan had a great variety in their bowling featuring Junaid, Rumman, Shinwari and Faheem in the pace attack while strangling the batsmen for runs with spinners like Imad, Shadab, Hafeez and Shoaib Malik. Apart from Hassan Ali’s five-for, Usman Shinwari’s five wicket haul in the final ODI was a great moment for Pakistan’s bowling. It is safe to say that right now, Pakistan is arguably the finest bowling unit in ODIs in world cricket.
In the batting department, Pakistan was once again led by the young prodigy, Babar Azam. Babar scored two tons in the first two games of the series to set the tone for the white wash. It was his fighting knock in the 2nd ODI though that was the most impressive. Pakistan were under huge pressure after losing 6 wickets at the score of 100 but Babar kept his cool and scored an impressive century. His 109 runs 7th wicket partnership with Shadab Khan (who scored an impressive half century) saved the day for Pakistan.
After yet another failure for Ahmad Shehzad in the first two ODIs, Pakistan made a change in the batting line and called up the young Imam ul Haq to replace Ahmed Shehzad in the opening slot. Imam ul Haq is the nephew of Pakistan’s former captain and now chief selector, Inzamam ul Haq. Imam played a brilliant knock on his debut and scored a century (becoming only the 2nd Pakistani to score a ton on debut). There was a lot of criticism thrown towards Inzamam ul Haq for allegedly showing bias towards his nephew but Imam ul Haq shut his critics up with a solid debut.
While Pakistan’s excellence in all departments quite evident, Sri Lanka looked like a lackluster side. After this series loss, Sri Lanka have now gone on to lose 12 consecutive ODIs. They looked tired and uninspired. After the great performance in the Test series against Pakistan, it was expected that they’d show a great spirit and fight in the ODIs as well but unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Sri Lanka would need a major overhaul to get themselves back on track in the shorter format of the game.
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