Some time in the past year, tables have turned, boots have switched feet, and these teams have exchanged personalities. So far in the series, Pakistan have been defined by consistency. Someone in the top three has found a way to make runs, the men in the middle have contributed, and Shoaib Malik has tapped into his experience to prove a canny finisher. Sri Lanka meanwhile, have relied on the spectacular performances – like Kusal Perera’s in Pallekele – to remain competitive.
With Azhar Ali, Mohammad Hafeez and Malik all in form, and Sarfraz Ahmed having turned in a substantial innings as well, the visitors will feel they have Sri Lanka’s bowling well covered – particularly as the hosts’ attack has been toothless. This situation, Sri Lanka fans have felt, is not helped by their refusal to play more than two specialist bowlers. Angelo Mathews has responded by saying they have considered the likes of Sachith Pathirana and Thisara Perera as front-line bowling options.
Pakistan’s bowlers do not seem have such a pronounced edge over Sri Lanka’s batsmen, despite Yasir Shah’s rich haul on Sunday evening. Lahiru Thirimanne stroked his way to a significant score for the first time in the series, and in the Sri Lanka top seven, there is a mix of talent and experience that suggests the team can compete in one department at least. Any hope of Sri Lanka levelling this series lies in that batting order.
Security has been substantially beefed up for this match, after violence broke out in the stands then spread to the surrounding neighbourhood on Sunday evening. The players were never in great danger that evening, but Sri Lanka’s authorities have made plans to deploy Special Task Force personnel through the venue.