COLOMBO - There was a time when winning the toss did more for a side's chances at the R Premadasa Stadium than its performance in a day-night match did. Batting under lights at the erstwhile Khettarama ground was so difficult that teams invariably chose to bat, and invariably won. And then came the 2011 World Cup. The playing square was relaid. New floodlights were installed. And the ghost of the Premadasa chase was laid to rest. With the white ball not doing as much at night now, the last five ODIs at the ground have been won by the side batting second. With the final two games of this ODI series to be played here, it evens things out further for these two well-matched sides.
Sri Lanka and Pakistan have alternated between taking punches and delivering them. They did that in the T20I series, which was tied 1-1. They split the first two games in the five-match ODI series as well, before rain decided to have its share in the third. More of it is forecast for tomorrow, but with a reserve day in place now, it would take a lot of water over two days to deny us a result.
On paper, Sri Lanka's top eight look as dangerous and as powerful as any top eight ever in ODI cricket. The three senior batsmen, the explosive Angelo Mathews and Thisara Perera, the fast-maturing Lahiru Thirimanne and Dinesh Chandimal. Upul Tharanga is only 27, but is already closing in on 5000 ODI runs. Sri Lanka's major headache these days is to figure out the batting order. Pakistan's batsmen have wobbled so much recently that their bowlers, especially the three quality limited-overs spinners, have had to work harder to deliver wins. Misbah-ul-Haq opted for the extra batsman, Asad Shafiq, in the third ODI but the wash-out denied him the opportunity to see whether the move would work. As the series nears its end, both sides would want to start delivering more punches than they take. Not only have the Pakistan batsmen struggled to make the big runs of late, they have also struggled to make them fast enough. There has been a certain tentativeness in the line-up which has had them sweating even in small chases. While it makes games exciting, the batting requires more stability as well as firepower. Both are available; only lying dormant at the moment.
Not that it is a big concern right now, but Dinesh Chandimal has a top-score of 32 from his past seven ODI innings. In his short career, he has already impressed in England, South Africa and Australia, but his home average is yet to go past ten. He does tend to get tied down in sluggish conditions. Which is how they will be in Sri Lanka as long as he plays, and thereafter.