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Top-ranked Pakistan is facing a rare 3-0 whitewash in a Twenty20 bilateral series when it takes on an inexperienced Sri Lanka side in the third and final match on Wednesday.
Sri Lanka’s key players opted out of the series due to security concerns, but the visitors haven’t missed them as they registered two emphatic victories in Lahore, with Pakistan choosing to experiment rather than fielding tried-and-tested players.
Recalled Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad failed in both matches, with Akmal getting golden ducks and Shehzad scores of 4 and 13 before he was clean bowled both times.
“If they weren’t able to perform what can be done?” questioned a frustrated-looking head coach and chief selector, Misbah-ul-Haq, after his team lost on Monday. “Obviously I am answerable, but to build up a team, you need to do some experiments to get your answers.
“When you play someone in international cricket, with a couple of games you understand the utility of a player. We need to show some patience.”
The recall of Akmal and Shehzad was not well received by sections of home supporters or former Pakistan cricketers.
“Pakistan T20 season has begun on a sour note under new team management. It had to. If you select recycled known mishits what else do you expect. Absolutely horrendous selection. I ask: Why fix it if it’s not broken,” tweeted former captain Ramiz Raja after Pakistan lost the first match last Saturday.
And Ramiz was equally disparaging after Pakistan lost the second match by 35 runs.
“Alarmingly poor were Pakistan – again!,” he posted on Twitter.
But Misbah said he had to try out Akmal and Shehzad against Sri Lanka, especially after both batsmen scored heavily over the last year in domestic cricket.
“Both these players have performed well wherever they’ve played in the last year,” he said. “Ahmed’s performance in PSL was remarkable enough for a chance, while Umar, whichever format he played, was among the good ones.
“It is unfortunate that in our circuit, there is no other batsman in T20s who had performed better than them. Players who have performed in domestic cricket surely deserve a chance, and that’s why we offered them.”
Pakistan’s experienced top-order batting lineup struggled in both matches against spin and seam. It was in sharp contrast to Sri Lanka’s inexperienced batsmen — Danushka Gunathilaka and Bhanuka Rajapaksa — who smashed half centuries which lifted Sri Lanka’s totals to 165 and 182, respectively.
And legspinner Wanindu Hasaranga dominated Pakistan’s brittle batting lineup when he claimed three wickets in four balls with perfect googlies, including the dismissals of Akmal and Shehzad.
Pakistan won 25 Twenty20s and lost only four in 2017 and 2018. It has lost five out of six T20s this year.
No. 1 batsman Babar Azam had been providing solid starts with Fakhar Zaman in the top order, but Babar’s failure in both matches against Sri Lanka has exposed Pakistan’s deficiencies.
“Yes, we are the No. 1 team in the world, but mostly our strength has been standing on Babar Azam scoring runs and with him not scoring in two games, we are exposed badly,” Misbah said.
“We need to find six or more match-winners. We need to have more dependable batsmen. We need powerhouses in the top and middle. And in bowling, we need to take wickets up front and in the death overs, and we need to have good finishers.”
With inputs from AP