In what was perhaps the single biggest step taken for the regular resumption of international cricket in the country, Sri Lanka returned to Lahore—the exact site of the terror attack against the very same side that has meant Pakistan been largely devoid of world-class cricket for over eight years.
But in between Sri Lanka touching down in Pakistan around 2am early Sunday morning, and their departure in the late hours of the same night, there was a cricket match contested, which allowed the hosts—veritable hosts for a change—to sweep the T20 series, winning the final match by 36 runs.
On paper, it was a dead rubber with Pakistan already having bagged the decisive lead after the thrilling finish to the second T20 in Abu Dhabi. But in terms of what it meant to Pakistan cricket, and its future, it was the single biggest contest for a good part of a decade.
Pakistan under Sarfraz are fast becoming a ruthless unit. And even though one and all could’ve been forgiven for being absorbed in the festivity and the momentousness of the occasion, it was evident that two thoroughly professional teams were taking part in a well-contested T20 international.
Pakistan continued their recent T20 pattern in Lahore by batting first and posting a total of 180 without losing too many wickets—three to be precise this time around.
The top three Fakhar Zaman (31 off 27), Umer Amin (45 off 37) and Babar Azam (34 off 31) were all among the runs. But it was Shoaib Malik’s 24-ball 51, and a later three-ball cameo by Faheem Ashraf (13) that actually pushed Pakistan to 180, when they didn’t look like getting too many over 160 for most of the innings.
Despite Babar Azam’s runs in both the limited-overs formats, Malik, with all his eons of experience, is perhaps Pakistan’s most important batsman with his regular demonstration of an ability to accelerate. This is not something that anyone else seems to be replicating in the batting line-up—including Fakhar Zaman, who despite intermittent flashes, hasn’t looked like the world-beater that he announced himself as in the Champions Trophy.
Faheem Ashraf, however, is impressing with both bat and ball—especially the latter, following up his hat-trick in the second T20 with another two wickets. Considering his repertoire with the bat, of which he’s shown glimpses at the international level, Faheem could be the all-rounder that Pakistan have long been missing.
He’d be provided good support by Shadab Khan—the hero of the second T20I—even though he had an off day with the ball on Sunday, just like he did the last time he played in Lahore in the third T20 against the ICC World XI.
Chasing 181, Sri Lanka were really good in bits. Most of this came when Dasun Shanaka was at the crease. Shanaka’s 36-ball 54 almost made a match of it, but, with virtually no support around him, even the youngster’s memorable stroke-play couldn’t prevent the eventual one-sided scoreline.
For Pakistan, everyone barring Shadab—who was at the wrong end of Shanaka’s long handle—looked good with the ball. The figures of Hasan Ali, Pakistan’s spearhead with the ball these days, were spoiled by Seekkuge Prassana in the 19th over. Muhammad Amir was supremely impressive on his comeback and finished with 4/13.
Pakistan are shaping up to be world-beaters in both forms of the limited-overs game. With Sri Lanka having visited, and West Indies to follow suit in a three-match T20 series next month, there is no shortage of positivity for Pakistan—both on and off the pitch.