“Players from other international teams are taking part in the IPL particularly the Sri Lankan players and that means they have a slight edge over us. If you compare the whole world with us, everyone is there in the IPL getting practice in intense scenarios and enhancing their skills, but our players are missing out on that opportunity.” That was newly-minted Pakistan T20 captain less than two weeks before the inaugural match of Sri Lanka tour, the now concluded T20 at Hambantota.
Pakistan wasted a fine bowling performance as Sohail Tanvir made inroads with three early wickets to help push the hosts towards a laughable total at 89/7 before Perera and Kulasekera added 43 from the final 22 deliveries of their innings. After the turn, Pakistan were bowled out 37 runs short, with only Ahmed Shehzad’s Misbah-esque 36 coming close to offering comfort.
The detractors of IPL may say what they will about diluted talent, flat pitches and short boundaries but the latest season has shown too many miraculous wins, equally miraculous losses and altogether a series of pressure cooker situations that develop a temperament Pakistan players clearly lack. Likewise, being around great players who constantly develop and hone their craft is a serious has its positive effects. Being around fierce competitors has its own.
As the T20 format emerged, Pakistan were able to develop as leaders thanks to a varied bowling attack and a couple of useful allrounders. Pakistan were on the cutting edge of understanding the game, as they T20 as an opportunity for bowlers even while it was being advertised as a white-knuckle barrage of boundaries. Pakistan have always been a top-ranked and fearsome T20 team…until perhaps now.
The price of missing out on the last four IPL seasons is proving dear for Pakistan. If anything can be gleaned from a single match, it is that Sri Lanka never appeared to panic. There were shaky moments like miscommunication between runners, but Sri Lanka players took confidence from every opportunity Pakistan missed. The visitors were unable to sustain pressure because chances repeatedly went asking.
Pakistan attempted the chase with only eight wickets to play with and a long tail after losing two in the first two balls. Perhaps the pressure of playing his first innings as captain unnerved Hafeez, and the situation got the better of the wicketkeeper on debut who replaced him. But none of the batsmen, from 1 to 11 showed an awareness of the situation and game plan that Sri Lanka possessed. Sri Lanka clearly wanted to target Tanvir, and that backfired the top order fell to questionable deliveries, but they ground out a winning total as a team as five of the next batsman reached double figures after the left-arm paceman removed both openers.
For Sri Lanka players who participated in the IPL, this match was probably just a simple exercise in muscle memory. These situation are becoming part of their DNA and will be surely become part of the Sri Lanka team’s DNA because the IPL players are the team’s leaders. The T20 World Cup is a few short matches away. Sri Lanka appear ready to cause some trouble, while Pakistan’s star dims.