SHARJAH (Monitoring Desk): If the purpose of a series is to find out which of two teams is the superior one, then this ODI felt nothing more than a rhetorical question. To have to play it at all was the equivalent of insisting upon an answer to the aforementioned rhetorical question. The problem with that is the answer is hardly ever surprising. That was emphatically the case with the fourth ODI between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Sharjah, which Sarfraz Ahmed’s men won by seven wickets with 11 overs to spare. Four down, one to go.
This time Sri Lanka, who won the toss and batted, turned up the most abject performance of the series, losing seven wickets for 99 before recovering slightly to finish with 173. That was thanks to Lahiru Thirimanne, the visitors’ only batsman, apart from the captain, who emerges from this series with any credit. He made 62 off 94 balls, including four fours. The target was far too comfortable for Pakistan, despite early hiccups that had left them at 58 for 3, with half-centuries from Babar Azam and Shoaib Malik guiding them home.
No matter what they try, it doesn’t seem to work for Sri Lanka. They made three changes to their XI and batted with an unmistakable air of freedom, having already conceded the series. Yet they careened to 173 all out in 43.4 overs. Pakistan’s bowlers put in an excellent collective performance – three of them took at least two wickets each – to establish the hosts’ dominance at the half-way mark.
It began when captain Upul Tharanga was bowled for a duck, debutant Usman Khan producing a wonder ball that ripped through the gap between bat and pad. Niroshan Dickwella then began to attack the opening bowlers, carting Usman for consecutive fours and hitting Junaid Khan for six over fine leg. The wicketkeeper-batsman was taking risks, though, and he pushed it a bit too far when he tried to go over the infield on the off side, cover point taking a simple catch.
Inevitably, the run rate began to slow down with Dinesh Chandimal and Thirimanne at the crease; the two batsmen have the lowest and fifth lowest ODI strike rates respectively this year. It was – unforgivably – a run out that broke the partnership, Chandimal the casualty. That brought the highly-regarded debutant Sadeera Samarawickmara to the crease, but he only lasted two balls, Imad Wasim beating him with the angle as the ball broke the stumps.
Shadab Khan soon joined the party, removing Seekkuge Prasanna and Thisara Perera off successive balls to leave Sri Lanka seven down before they had reached three figures. Akila Dananjaya, who has been stoic in the lower order, hung around with Thirimanne as they attempted to reach what might be a competitive score. The last three wickets did add 74, but in the end, it merely saved Sri Lanka some extra embarrassment rather than having any impact on the scoreline.
Chasing a smaller target than they had done in the third ODI, Pakistan might have felt comfortable with the straightforward task at hand. However, they were nowhere near as assured to start off on Friday, although the Sri Lankan bowlers were partly responsible for that. Fast bowler Lahiru Gamage was successful coming round the wicket to Imam-ul-Haq, trapping last game’s centurion plumb in front in the second over.
Zaman’s dismissal was more disappointing. He got yet another start before falling in exactly the same fashion as he had in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. He charged at the spinner – Dananjaya this time – and failed to get anywhere near the pitch of the ball, and was utterly beaten by the spin. Dickwella completed a simple stumping.
Seekkuge Prasanna removed Hafeez shortly after, though it was more down to a poor shot by the batsman. He failed to control a sweep shot off a wrong’un, the ball ballooning straight to deep square leg. Pakistan were 58 for 3, the match still salvageable for Upul Tharanga’s men.
From thereon, it could have turned into one of those awkward low-scoring thrillers that chasing sides find so horrible, but the combination of youth and experience got Pakistan out of a hole. Apart from a dropped catch that gave Shoaib Malik a reprieve, the veteran added an unbroken 119 with Babar with Babar that carried the side home. After a lengthy spell where they consolidated, they swatted the bowlers away towards the end, the last 26 runs coming off two overs. It was far too comfortable, as much of this series has been for Sarfraz’s men.