Veiled under the hype and hoopla surrounding the Ashes, the Pakistan-Sri Lanka series may have been one-way traffic so far, in terms of the results, but the games haven’t been short of any excitement. The hosts lead 2-0, but with a little luck and a little more than a little application, the scoreline could very well have been reversed, yet, it is only fair that the hosts have already clinched the series, their first ever against Pakistan at home.
Despite Younus Khan’s grave pleadings to give his team more time in the longest format of the game, his own suicide at the crease that was so reminiscent of Mike Gatting’s in the finals of the 1987 world cup will be the one shot that will come to haunt him and team from their loss to Sri Lanka. No, one cannot blame a single shot on the result of any game, as rightly pointed out by the captain himself, but if one were to drill deeper into the impact that reverse-sweep had on the outcome of the game, it wouldn’t be wrong to term it as fairly influential.
This is not to say that the skipper’s analogy in we-didn’t-blame- Butt’s-false-stroke in the first game holds too much ground. Giving him the boot for the second game was as far as one could go to achieve that, and getting in a non-regular opener sealed the issue. Not that I feel that it was a wrong move, but the more surprising fact was that Pakistan had gone in for the series without a backup opener, despite the rumblings about Butt’s lacklustre form even in the ICC World T20.
Yet, all wasn't lost for the Pakistanis even after having been dismissed for a meagre 90 in the first inning. To me, if there was any doubt about the fact that this is a team which could very easily run away with the title of the comeback-kings, then this game has dusted it off. If the world cup triumphs of 1992 and 2009 – the ICC World T20 – were not enough, this was a third fightback in test matches that one has witnessed from this team. India had been at the receiving end of the first two; one when Pakistan had been restricted to 26/6 on the opening morning of the game to come back and win the test, and the other at Karachi, where they recovered from 39/6 to rout the Indians by a whopping margin of 341 runs!
This may not be a sport for too many ‘ifs’, but it was clear that after having been bowled for 90, and then having conceded a 150-run lead, the score of 285/1 would have sent shivers down the spine of the Sri Lankan team. If only the duo could have batted for another few overs, or in turn, one other player got at least a fifty or so, things could have just looked slightly different.
All of a sudden, Ajantha Mendis looks to have lost his wicket-taking abilities in the test matches. It was thought that the absence of M.Muralitharan would bring out the best from Mendis, but what has actually happened is quite contrary to expectations. Five wickets in two test matches at an average of more 40 is something that one had not come to expect from the wily re-inventor of the carom-ball. This, however, could be more to do with the opposition, who hadn’t allowed him to settle down, even in the previous terror-inflicted series between the two nations as the figures of a solitary wicket for 178 runs would exemplify.
And funnily enough, this would be one of the first occasions, that the quick bowlers have ruled the roost on Sri Lankan soil. Nuwan Kulasekera’s late swing has left the batsmen as bamboozled as Murali ever could with his turn and bounce, while, the likes of Umar Gul and Thilan Thushara have been up there as well with the cherry in their hand. What baffles me further is that left-arm spinner, Rangan Herath, who was brought in to place the injured Murali, has usurped the other tweakers, so much so, that it would be interesting to observe which of the bowlers gets dropped when the maestro does return for the next game!