There was a time when Sri Lanka held the highest scores in all three formats. In a matter of few days, Australia and England have taken over the T20 and ODI tallies. Overhauling 952 (Test record) might take some time and recent years only Pakistan came close to it when they declared at 765/6 against Sri Lanka in Karachi, in 2009. Incidentally, both T20 and ODI records were broken against Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
There’s no denying Sri Lanka and Pakistan’s performance index has gone down in the shorter formats. Pakistan did finish their latest England tour with a T20 victory and a sole ODI win to avoid a whitewash. But those were mere blips on the radar.
Since the 2015 World Cup, Pakistan have won 10 out of their 26 matches. Sri Lanka are almost on the same page. They have won nine out of 25 matches since the World Cup. Pakistan have a slightly better statistic in T20s, having won 12 out of 25 matches in the last two years. Sri Lanka however, have slid further, winning just four out of the 19 T20s they have played in the last two years.
Their sloppy performance has reflected in the ICC rankings as well. In ODIs, Sri Lanka and Pakistan are sixth and ninth, respectively. In T20s, Pakistan are seventh while Sri Lanka are eighth. Compare that to India, who occupy the second and third ranks in T20s and ODIs, and the gap seems too big between two sub-continental teams who pretty much revolutionised the shorter, modern-day versions.
A number of factors can be highlighted to explain their poor form.
Home away from home
Pakistan’s success in Test cricket is more about a few experienced individuals proving a point than about a resurgent team. Take out those individuals and Pakistan are still a struggling team.
Naturally then, lack of match experience explains their poor form in shorter formats. And the fact that they don’t play in the country (Pakistan play their home series in the UAE), makes things a little tricky as upcoming players don’t get to play tour matches with visiting teams like in other countries.
Pakistan players were heavily involved in the inaugural edition of the IPL but were banned after that Mumbai attacks in 2008. Azhar Mahmood, however, was the only exception, thanks to his dual citizenship.
Sri Lanka’s decline is more precarious. Only two Sri Lankans featured in the 2016 auction of the IPL— Lasith Malinga, who was retained by Mumbai Indians, and Thisara Perera, who was sold to Rising Pune Supergiants. That is a sharp fall from 10 Sri Lankans who went under the hammer in the first IPL auction in 2008.
More and more franchises have been looking inwards, unearthing domestic talent who could serve their teams for long periods. But that doesn’t mean they have hesitated to pay through the nose for a worthy foreigner. Sri Lanka has failed to produce one.
Most of the players bought in the initial years of the IPL belonged to the same Sri Lankan generation — Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Muttiah Muralitharan, Tillekaratne Dilshan and the likes. The only other time there was hype surrounding a Sri Lankan was when Kolkata Knight Riders poached Ajantha Mendis out of nowhere. Once he was sorted out by the batsmen, Mendis faded away.
Pakistan’s case was a little more complicated. Effectively maimed by the bans handed to two of their best bowlers — Saeed Ajmal and Mohammed Hafeez — Pakistan were left with a team that didn’t have a strong core of youngsters. Instead, players like Shahid Afridi and Umar Akmal were ruling the roost only till recently.
Charges of indiscipline were often leveled against them. Add to that the uncertainty with the leadership. In the last two years, there were four Pakistan ODI captains, including an unknown Azhar Ali who was hauled out of wilderness and handed the reins of the team.
Poor batting core
Interestingly, both Pakistan and Sri Lanka have a common problem — finding a solid batting core that will stay put for at least the next five years. Players such as Sarfraz Ahmed and Dinesh Chandimal hold out hope but there aren’t enough consistent batsmen emerging at the same time. Where Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been hit hard the most is their best players opting out of the shorter formats.
So while Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan did wonders against England in Tests, Pakistan looked poorer without them in the ODI series just after that. Rangana Herath ended with 28 wickets in three Tests against Australia at home but once the ODIs started, Sri Lanka could feel the pinch without him.
Now even Dilshan has retired. When Sangakkara and Jayawardene had retired, they were pleaded to return till Sri Lanka found the right replacements.
Both teams are struggling but hopefully, they are on the mend. Only time can tell whether Pakistan and Sri Lanka can shrug off their problems and reclaim their footing across all formats.