Shoaib Mallik, having entered a classic 18th year of his international career, utilised his rich experience to help Pakistan revive their UAE tour on Friday. Coming in at No. 5, a blistering knock from Mallik saw Pakistan set a competitive target for Sri Lanka in the first ODI in Dubai. He smashed five boundaries and two sixes in his 61-ball 81 as the fourth wicket stand of 139 runs between him and eventual centurion Babar Azam took the momentum of the match in the favour of Pakistan and there was little the Sri Lankan bowlers could do. Pakistan went 1-0 up in the five-ODI series and this came after they were thrashed and whitewashed in the two Tests the two sides had played prior to the limited-overs.
Following Mallik’s heroics in the first innings, the Pakistani bowling attack Rumman Raees and Hasan Ali handed Sri Lanka an 83-run drubbing, which was also Sri Lanka’s eighth consecutive defeat in the ODIs. The Sri Lankan openers Upul Tharanga and Niroshan Dickwella surely did take an advantage of the powerplay, which their opponents had not. They hit five fours in the first 19 balls and gave their side the needed start. However, as soon as Dickwella was dismissed, the run-rate fell sharply. They managed to score only five runs off the next 24 balls.
In less than 20 overs, Sri Lanka had lost half the team. Down the order, Dilruwan Perera, the hero of the second Test for Sri Lanka, handed some support to Lahiru Thirimanne for the sixth wicket. However, the partnership lasted only for 41 runs and as soon as that was broken, there was no hope left for Sri Lanka in the match. Pakistan would have expected the Lankan tail to wrap up soon but to their surprise, the players were in no mood to give up. Dananjaya and Jeffrey Vandersay, the Nos. 8 and 9 frustrated Pakistan as much as they could as they hung around for a 68-run stand and ensured Sri Lanka batted all 50 overs.
However, Sri Lanka, eventually had to suffer a loss.
In 2017, so far, they have played 21 ODIs but shockingly have managed to win only four out of those games.
However, contradicting to Sri Lanka’s poor performance in the calendar year, Mallik only continued to fair well with the bat in the year. From 13 ODIs he has played in 2017, he has secured 436 runs at 54.50 and that is inclusive of a century and two fifties. The cricket star, who retired from Tests in 2015 suggesting to focus completely on the shorter formats, has nearly lived up to the expectations in the last couple of years. Apart from 2016, where he did not play much of the one-day format, he has executed himself as a crucial member in the middle-order very well.
Pakistan did not have the greatest possible starts as they lost out of form Ahmed Shehzad, who failed to make use of yet another chance given by the selectors. The centurion from ICC Champions Trophy final 2017 for Pakistan, Fakhar Zaman, could not convert a start into a big and fell for 42 off 45 balls. Another senior man, Mohammad Hafeez (32 off 38), threw away his wicket after he almost put Pakistan on the driver’s seat.
Just when Pakistan, at 124 for 3, was looking for an inspiration that would take them forward from this tricky situation, Mallik walked in. He had a set batsman in 22-year-old Babar Azam on the other end.
When Mallik entered the field in Dubai on Friday, as one of the senior-most faces in the current Pakistan squad, received loud cheers from the spectators and the big screen showed his wife and Indian tennis star Sania Mirza who welcomed Mallik with a massive smileIt’sts never easy to steal the thunder from a teammate who has scored a century in the same innings.
There was no doubt that the Sri Lankan attack was disciplined. Against an attack like that, without smart big shots and clever running between the wickets, Pakistan could have never reached a total closer to 300. While Babar’s approach was to hang there as long as he could, Mallik charged up as soon as he saw the opportunity. On the course of his 40th ODI half-century, the veteran batsman struck his 100th six in the 50-over format and became the fifth Pakistani cricketer and 32nd overall, to do so.
The respective strike-rates of Mallik and Babar showed who was the more superior one, regardless of the fact that Babar ended his innings with triple digits beside his name. Having played 48 ODIs in the UAE in the last 18 years, who could have altered his game better than Mallik to play according to the conditions? Although he has been averaging less than 40 in the UAE, he has delivered quite a few memorable knocks and the 61-ball 81 at a strike-rate of 132.78 will easily top the list.
Since Pakistan were hammered in the Test series, the first ODI witnessed the Sri Lankan fans had outnumbered the Pakistani fans in Dubai. Mallik’s knock has not only put back Pakistan on the track but also would have restored the fans’ faith in them.