The first time it happened, many thought it was a one off. The second time it happened, the cat was set among the pigeons. Third time and the alarm bells were ringing loud and clear.
A second-string Sri Lankan team blanked Pakistan – the No1 T20 in the world – in their back yard. And just to rub salt into the wounds, Sri Lanka rested five players from their already weakened playing XI for the third match in Lahore and still defeated Pakistan 3-0.
All three matches followed a similar pattern; Sri Lanka batted first, posted a challenging score and put pressure on a fragile Pakistan top order. The hosts could see it coming and were still unable to do anything about it.
Bhanuka Rajapaksa was the standout batsman for Sri Lanka, scoring 112 runs in three outings while the visitors’ bowling attack – led by seamer Nuwan Pradeep and spinner Wanindu Hasaranga – was a class apart.
But still, we are talking about the top-ranked T20 team in the world playing at home after winning the preceding ODI series 2-0. So what went wrong? We take a look at some of the main talking points.
Over reliance on Babar
We know Babar Azam is the best young batsman in the game at the moment. His technique and temperament is excellent in white and red-ball cricket. But he is bound to fail at some point, like he did in the first two matches at the top of the order. As coach and selector Misbah-ul-Haq admitted, Pakistan’s batting has been exposed with Babar out of form.
The men in green were playing at home and even though the margin of defeats kept reducing – 64 runs, 35 runs and 13 runs – they should have done a lot more. The returning Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal had a golden chance to grab the opportunity with both hands as it is the World T20 next year. But they fared so miserably – Akmal got a pair of golden ducks – it won’t be a surprise if they never play again.
The question on everyone’s mind was – why did captain Sarfaraz Ahmed bat at number four? In T20 cricket, you need your best hitters up front. Yet the keeper kept coming in early while pushing big hitters like Asif Ali and later Iftikhar Ahmed so far down that by the time their chance came, the game had slipped away.
In the third T20, Pakistan were chasing 148. Babar (27 from 32 balls) and Haris Sohail (52 of 50) had consumed enough deliveries to push the required rate to nine an over. And yet Sarfaraz walked in at his usual position and the saw the equation worsen to 54 runs needed from 30 balls. Despite late hits from Iftikhar (17 off 8), there was no way back for Pakistan.
Fearless Sri Lanka
The visitors had nothing to lose and Pakistan didn’t have much to gain. It was, after all, a hastily arranged series after 10 first choice Sri Lankan players had opted out. That made the little known Sri Lankan players dangerous.
There has never been a shortage of talent in the country; need we remind you that Sri Lanka won a Test series in South Africa earlier in the year. And when they sensed instability in the Pakistan set-up, they didn’t hold back.
Be it the big hits of Rajapaksa and Oshada Fernando – who hit 78 off 48 in the third game – or the exemplary lines of seamers Pradeep and Kasun Rajitha, there was a sense of purpose in everything Sri Lanka did. The googlies of Hasaranga was the last straw that broke Pakistan’s back.