If the speedster’s spell had lessons for them on how not to commit hara-kiri, they arrived in the Hyderabadi bowler’s backyard with lessons learnt from the recent battering at the hands of South Africa.
Their World Cup opener in Delhi saw the Proteas make merry. Quinton de Kock, Rassie van der Dussen and Aiden Markram took the Lankan attack to the cleaners, with the latter smashing the fastest ton of the tournament in 49 deliveries. It was a rank bad start for a team, which for the first time came through the qualifiers, playing minnows UAE, Oman and the Netherlands.
The match against Pakistan at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium on Tuesday will offer the Lankan team, ranked ninth in the ODI table, another chance to get going in a tournament they last won in 1996. Given their record, it’s easier said than done.
Sri Lanka are yet to defeat Pakistan in a World Cup encounter. While the two teams did not cross paths in 1979, 1996, 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2015, Pakistan won in 1975, 1983 (2), 1987 (2), 1992, 2011 and there was no result in Bristol in 2019.
The Lankans, though, have the advantage of plying their trade on Indian wickets, courtesy the IPL, and will be bolstered by the return of Maheesh Theekshana. The offie is likely to replace leftarm spinner Dunith Wellalage and Lahiru Kumara, Matheesha Pathirana.
Kusal Mendis will be the key to Lankan fortunes, as he has been in good touch, and they look to counter the Pakistan bowling attack. The Pakistan team is more familiar with the conditions, having trained and won a match against the Netherlands here.
Barring their openers Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq, skipper Babar Azam, Mohammed Rizwan, Iftikhar Ahmed and Saud Shakeel have all been among the runs here. Shakeel — the first batter in Test history to cross 50 in each of his first seven Tests, including six half-centuries and two centuries — was impressive against the Netherlands and revived the Pakistan innings in the company of Rizwan.
The Pakistanis will look to strike hard before the big one against India in Ahmedabad come Saturday.