In the last game of their three-match ODI series, Sri Lanka salvaged pride and some desperately needed points in the World Cup Super League. They sealed a 97- run victory over the hosts, courtesy of a fine century by skipper Kusal Perara and an excellent five-wicket haul by the promising paceman Chameera.
THE NOT SO DEAD RUBBER
A dead rubber is usually defined as a match of little or no consequence. A contest where the players are seen to go through the motions, with a lack of competitive edge. Those characteristics certainly weren't on display during the last ODI of the series between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and so such labelling by some media outlets, was wide of the mark.
The advent of the World Test Championship and the World Cup Super league is an attempt to provide context and meaning to each bilateral series, as if representing one's country in a professional sport isn't meaningful enough. Although the structure of both competitions is imperfect, it does add an extra dimension in terms of the points up for grabs in each game.
Prior to the third ODI, Sri Lanka found themselves on minus two in the World Cup Super League, due to docked points for a slow over-rate, so the incentive to win was plain to see. Similarly, although Bangladesh top the league table, they were rightly wary of stiffer challenges on the horizon, such as a series against England, so gleaning points against Sri Lanka was vital. Add to the mix three debutants and the Bangladesh captain being fined for dissent, and it was clear to see how much the match meant to everyone.
In a few days, England will embark on a Test series against New Zealand, which sits outside the World Test Championship – it'll be interesting to note if those games are seen as dead rubbers. I suspect the likes of Anderson and Broad would vehemently disagree with anyone who says that.
SRI LANKA AT FULL THROTTLE
Having won the toss and elected to bat, Sri Lanka began their innings as if they were trying to make up for their ponderous efforts with the bat in the series so far. Both openers looked to dominate and effectively hit Shoriful out of the attack after two expensive overs. His replacement was the innocuous part-time spin of Mosaddek Hossain, eliciting head scratching from onlookers. Mosaddek is at best a sixth bowling option; his array of long hops allowed the batsmen to settle and release any pressure. It's still early days for Tamim as captain of the ODI team, and a degree of lateral thinking should be encouraged, but not to the detriment of basic strategy.
Sri Lanka raced to 50 off 6.4 overs, a double breakthrough by Taskin in the 12th over marginally slowed the scoring rate, before a significant partnership between the two Kusals. It was clear that Kusal Perara was in determined mood, his innings of 120 off 122 balls demonstrating his strengths of cutting and pulling. But it wasn't a chanceless innings. In fact, he was dropped three times after reaching his fifty, most tellingly on 99 when Mahmudullah was unable to cling on to the ball when running in from mid-off. Conversely, when Mahmudullah did eventually hang on to a catch offered by Perera, it was a much tougher one that had him running backwards from long-on.
In contrast to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh's fielding has been poor during the series and in almost all the cricket they've played in pandemic times. Things reached a low point in the second ODI against New Zealand at Christchurch when regulation chances were missed and with it the chance to square the series. The team's acumen in the field and general mobility has rightly been called into question. Shoriful's direct hit run-out of Dickwella, showed glimpses of much needed improvement
Bangladesh did manage to peg back the visitors in the last 20 overs, and a total of 286 for six had threatened to be much bigger when Perara was in full flow. It was the first time that Mehidy Hasan Miraz, Shakib and Mustifizur had all gone wicketless in the same game after bowling a full quota of overs. Perhaps it was testament to a sensible Sri Lankan game plan of seeing off Bangladesh's greatest assets with the ball'
SHAKIB OFF COLOUR
The burden of expectation on Bangladesh's premier allrounder and the best cricketer they've ever produced, is immense. The merest slight deviation from Shakib's lofty standards inevitably creates conjecture. His returns against Sri Lanka have been disappointing, a paltry 19 runs from his favoured No 3 spot and three wickets representing serious underachievement.
Perhaps it's his form with the bat that should cause most concern. The entire batting strategy is based on Shakib providing balance by batting at No 3 and scoring a mountain of runs, as he did during the 2019 World Cup. Each failure in that position creates the sense of his feats in the summer of 2019, being a purple patch. His lack of international cricket in the two years since the World Cup should not be understated. His international suspension, coupled by favouring the IPL over national duty, has undoubtedly made it difficult for him to slot straight back in. His willingness or otherwise to participate in the upcoming CPL and resumed IPL, will once again heighten the franchise v country debate.
FAILURE TO CHASE
Bangladesh's innings got off to a familiar start with the early loss of their latest makeshift opener, Mohammed Naim. Shakib's subsequent inability to control a short ball, offering a simple catch to short leg, meant that Mushfiqur found himself at the crease with the score on nine for two and plenty of rescuing to do again. But it was too much to ask this time and, in the face of a spiralling required rate, Mushfiqur uncharacteristically tried to hit over the top and perished at long-on for 28.
A pivotal moment in Bangladesh's run chase came in the 10th over, when Tamim was adjudged to have edged behind off the enterprising bowling of Chameera. Tamim looked convinced that the on-field umpire had made a mistake, although the DRS showed no reason to overturn the decision.
Tamim's bat hit the ground simultaneously with the ball passing the edge and, until more sophisticated technology is introduced to differentiate between the two sounds, an unsatisfying conclusion will always be reached. Despite a partnership of sorts stitched together by Mosaddek and Mahmudullah, whose experience and skill merits at least one place higher in the order, the target always seemed out of reach. Bangladesh were bowled out inside 43 overs and the 97-run winning margin was by no means an inaccurate reflection of both teams respective performances.
An under-the-radar ODI series between two of the least glamorous sides in world cricket still provided entertainment and plenty of narrative arcs for those willing to engage with it. The Dhaka pitches showed incremental improvement through the series but the importance of the toss and electing to bat first took away a large element of unpredictability. By winning the final game, Sri Lanka's inexperienced team repaid the faith shown by selectors. Chameera was consistently excellent with the ball and fully deserved his five-wicket haul in the last match. Wanindu Hasaranga also showed the ability to become a genuine and potent allrounder. Sri Lanka's next ODI assignment is in England and it would seem inconceivable that at least a couple of the seniors who were omitted from the Bangladesh tour aren't reintroduced.
The series has consolidated the challenges that face Bangladesh in times ahead. The search for a consistent opening partner for Tamim continues, as well as someone able to inject authority in the middle overs. The over-reliance on the seniors, who are verging on veteran status, has been stark. Tamim, Shakib, Mushfiqur and Mahmudullah are fast approaching the twilight of their careers and there's still no sign of anyone being able to replace them.