Pakistan were either the team that caused South Africa to doubt themselves, or just capitalised on their opposition’s lack of mental strength before the rain came in, and made sure they couldn’t lose. If we believe Hafeez, they could be both – an enigma wrapped in Shoaib Akhtar’s hair.
Pakistan’s win-loss ratio since the 2015 World Cup 0.8, so the fact that they are terrible in one game and good in the next is predictable. They had to scrape when it came to even qualifying. They sent a hologram team to play India in the first game.
But then what of their opposition for Monday’s match? Sri Lanka are the only other side in this tournament with a win-loss record below 1 since the 2015 World Cup, and theirs is 0.66. They have hemorrhaged stars over the last couple of years, and even the one they have, Lasith Malinga, is no longer the Malinga of lore. This team has had a shocking run with injuries: Angelo Mathews missed the first game; Danushka Gunathilaka came into the squad one day before the match against India, where he scored 76; they lost one Perera (Kusal) when he injured himself on 47 during the last game, and two days out from this game, the other Perera (Thisara) got hit on the head (he’s now okay). Before they brought in their latest replacement, Dhananjaya de Silva, Sri Lanka had been down to seven batsmen.
They are also probably the only team in this tournament to have entered the competition without an apparent game plan of how to win matches. A few days before the tournament began they lost to Scotland, a side whose captain had retired last year to get a real job.
In their last five chases of over 300 coming into this tournament, they lost every game by an average of 92.2 runs. Against South Africa they needed 300 exactly, they ended up 96 runs short. But they were 91/1 after 11 overs. And then next game, against India, they chased 322 with eight balls and seven wickets in hand. That’s attacking, that’s unpredictable.
This team hasn’t won much; they don’t know what their strengths are yet. Mathews said, “We’ve got a young set of players who are still coming through the ranks and who are still unfamiliar with the international level, but the skill is obviously there. We know what we can do. We showed the other day.”
And what they can do is hit. Niroshan Dickwella has the highest strike rate in the first ten overs of any player in this tournament since the last World Cup (min 5 innings). They have huge hitting ability down the list – Thisara Perera and Mathews are both well known as quick scorers in the death overs. Asela Gunaratne has been scoring at close to 150 in the slog overs, and Seekkuge Prasanna is a more erratic but even faster scorer.
Sri Lanka should have won both their games, but are so inexperienced and fragile they would probably be happy to have won once. Pakistan are more predictable – either their bowlers take regular wickets, or they struggle. For Sri Lanka, anything is possible.
“Yes, there will be expectations now, but we just want to treat this just as a game and try and focus on what we have to do and what we can do,” Mathews said. “With Sri Lanka, we’re not sure what that is.
On paper, these are the two weakest sides in the competition, but due to their huge wins in the last round, there is a disconnect between how bad they have looked coming into this tournament and the fact that one of them is going to play in the semi-finals.