About the Match
Not many had anticipated the last game of the group stage of Champions Trophy 2017, Sri Lanka taking on Pakistan, to be of so much importance. Credit to both Pakistan and Sri Lanka however, both of whom have defied bad form, off-field issues, injury concerns, inexperience and all sorts of pre-conceived notions to make this match a virtual quarter-final. Pakistan beat South Africa and Sri Lanka got one up on India to make sure that only one of those two more fancied sides will make the semi-finals, and it is going to be one of either Sri Lanka or Pakistan that will make the other semi-finalist from group B. This game will be played at Cardiff on 12th June and the winner will join England, Bangladesh and the winner of the India - South Africa game in the semi-finals.
Sri Lanka is undergoing a cruel rebuilding phase at the moment. Their recent ODI record heading into the Champions Trophy had not been very good either, and the way they lost their opening game to South Africa seemed to suggest that they were in England to merely make up the numbers.
With such patchy form and the distraction of many unwanted off-field issues, defeating India in the bouncy English conditions seemed a little farfetched for Sri Lanka, but this is exactly what they were able to achieve and they now find themselves just a win away from making the semifinals of Champions Trophy 2017.
Sri Lankan bowling did not do too well against India, and Gunathilaka was the only bowler who was able to exert some sort of control over the rampaging Indian batsmen. It was the batting, however, chasing a record target, which came good and played with a lot of flair and freedom to track down a mammoth Indian total. Gunathilaka was good with the bat as well, and along with Mendis, Perera and the captain Angelo Mathews, made sure that Sri Lanka now has everything to play for in their last group game.
Sri Lanka has always done well in ICC tournaments, and the odds of them beating Pakistan in this game and making the semi-finals are quite reasonable. Sri Lanka just needs to keep their heads clear and play with the same freedom that they displayed against India.
Pakistan has had a really poor last couple of years in ODI cricket. They are the eighth-ranked ODI team in the world currently, behind Bangladesh, and this perfectly highlights how much the Pakistan team has fallen behind in ODI cricket with respect to all the other major teams.
This lack of awareness to the modern game was highlighted in their first encounter against India as well, where they gave away a huge total through some hopeless fielding and wayward bowling, and then could never get going in the chase. The bowlers who did well for them were not fit enough to sustain a full ODI innings and the batsmen who scored some runs were too slow while scoring them.
Such performances were surely not going to win them many games in this tournament, and so they overturned everything they did in the first game to such an extent in their next game against South Africa that it appeared as if it was a new Pakistan that was playing this game.
Pakistan was electric in the field – diving, making saves, the energy was visibly high, and they bowled with a lot of purposes to restrict South Africa to a total that was attainable for their less fancied batting. Pakistan batsmen then played sensibly, read the situation well, and were in complete control of the game when rain arrived and gave Pakistan a win based on DLS calculations.
Pakistan is a very unpredictable, flamboyant and aggressive side, and predicting their performances can be very tricky. They displayed what they can achieve when they play with the right attitude in their win against South Africa. They would be just hoping that they are able to play the same sort of cricket on Monday and make the semi-finals.
Both Pakistan and Sri Lanka have a good overall record at ICC events. However, both these sides have had a patchy ODI record of late, and it is only on the back of two completely unexpected upsets that both of them find themselves in with a chance of making the semi-finals. Both the sides have been hindered by a lot of on-field as well as off-field issues in recent times, and it is really difficult to separate both these sides in terms of their chances in this match. Sri Lanka has a much more reliable and in-form batting order, however, and this gives them a very slight upper hand in this contest.