Pakistan eyes sweep in historic clash

Pakistan eyes sweep in historic clash



Eight years after being targeted in a militant attack, Sri Lanka will become the first major team to return to Pakistan, giving the cricket-starved nation a huge fillip in its efforts to revive international cricket in the country.

Improved security through military operations in the country has helped Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) take gradual steps towards bringing international cricket back to the country, while the team has been forced to play home games on neutral venues of United Arab Emirates.

With improved security in recent years, PCB held a limited-over series with Zimbabwe in 2015, the final of Pakistan Super League, and a three-match series against a World XI side earlier this year – all in Lahore. That helped convince Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) to send their team for the third and final Twenty20 International in Lahore on Sunday (October 29).

The tour was in doubt after Upul Tharanga, Sri Lanka’s regular T20I captain, withdrew, forcing the SLC to hand the captaincy to untried Thisara Perera. Other players including Suranga Lakmal and Chamara Kapugedara -- both on the bus that was attacked in 2009 -- Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews, Niroshan Dickwella, Akila Dananjaya and Dushmantha Chameera also refused to tour. Nic Pothas, their coach, also withdrew citing security fears.

A new-look Sri Lanka lost the first two T20Is, handing Pakistan the T20I series to go with the ODI series which Sarfraz Ahmed’s side won 5-0. Sri Lanka will fly to Lahore early on Sunday to play the last match later in the evening and will then dash off home the same night in a fly-in, fly-out arrangement.

A new-look Sri Lanka lost the first two T20Is, handing Pakistan the T20I series.
Despite losing the series, Pothas was impressed with the way Sri Lanka fought in defence of a modest 124. “You can say this is the best match we have played," he said. "It is funny because we arrived here and played two good Test matches. I'm very happy with those but probably we let ourselves down in the five ODIs. Then this game was super and a bitter pill to swallow.”

From Pakistan’s point of view, Hasan Ali has been bowling like a dream, and the spin twins, Shadab Khan and Imad Wasim, have been excellent too. Usman Shinwari has been at the top of his game as well.

On Friday, Pakistan found its heroes in Faheem Ashraf and Shadab who took the side to a nervy two-wicket win. Driven by a hat-trick, Ashraf derailed the Sri Lankan innings with 3 for 16 in his three overs, thus becoming the first Pakistani to record a hat-trick in T20Is. With 12 needed from the last six balls, Shadab, 18, hit the fourth ball of the last over for a six to seal the series 2-0.

Irrespective of the result, Pakistan’s hopes will be pinned on the successful conduct of this T20I – a precursor in bringing Windies for three T20Is next month.

Perera, who visited Lahore with the World XI, said he was happy with what security he had seen last month."I was really happy with that security because we went for a three-match series," said Perera. "Unluckily we lost the series, but we were really impressed by security because everyone enjoyed (themselves). I think seven-eight countries participated there. I'm really satisfied with the security.”