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Cricket news - Which Pakistan will Sri Lanka face?

Pakistan are unbeaten in their last five ODIs against Sri Lanka and they also lead 7-0 in World Cup clashes

Trading since 1841, 'The Robin Hood' is one of the oldest active establishments in the university town of Bristol. This pub screens sports games, runs weekly quizzes, offers special discounts to college faculty and if you are up for it, its affable owner even indulges foreign students with fables of a heroic outlaw from Nottinghamshire after whom the pub is named. It would take English folklore and the tales of Robin Hood to comprehend Pakistan at this World Cup so far: They've taken points from the No.1 side - England - and given it to the No.8 side - West Indies.

Sri Lanka, ranked one place below West Indies, might have grounds to expect similar benevolence from Sarfaraz's Robin Hoods. Because, if Pakistan were to conform to natural order for once, they will start Friday's clash as overwhelming favourites. They are 5-0 against Sri Lanka in their last five ODIs and 7-0 in World Cup clashes - a record that shades even the famous one India have against them in this marquee tournament (6-0, ICYMI).

It took Roger Federer to put losing streaks in perspective this week. Ahead of his French Open semifinal against Rafael Nadal, Federer who has never beaten his nemesis in five attempts on the Parisian clay, said: "There is always a chance in sports. Otherwise, nobody will be in the stadium to watch because everybody already knows the result in advance. And I think sport does that to you, that every match needs to be played before it's decided."

And so, Sri Lanka have 'a chance'. When clouds align, as they are forecast to, their pace attack led by Lasith Malinga can match Pakistan's for efficacy, if not for pace and spectacle. It is their under-fire middle-order, that'll have lesser breathing room to shrug off form against a revitalised Mohammad Amir & Co. In the long term, Sri Lanka might have to ready alternatives (but, who?) for Angelo Mathews and Lahiru Thirimanne. But the long term can wait. This is a World Cup. It usually defines ODI careers. And this game might just define the immediate futures of these two.

When: Pakistan vs Sri Lanka, CWC19, June 7, 2019, 10:30 Local; 15:00 IST

Where: County Ground, Bristol

What to expect: The meteorologists' forecasts make for grim reading. There's a 90% chance for rain, which is expected to hit all through Friday morning, putting the game in serious jeopardy. But as locals would have you know, no weatherman can claim to accurately predict Bristol weather. The pitch remained under the hover cover on the eve of the game, but Dimuth Karunaratne said it would be a welcome change from the green tops of Cardiff. West Indies scored 421 at this ground in a warm-up game against New Zealand. Pakistan themselves scored 358 in an ODI here last month and lost. On the evidence of the ball constantly thudding into the sight-screen during practice, the short straight boundaries will continue to be targeted by batsmen looking for big returns.

Team News:

Pakistan

Pakistan report a fully fit squad. Having just topped the tournament favourites and hosts England, there's a good chance they will go into the game unchanged. Shoaib Malik appears to have been pushed to the fringes of the playing XI in his last World Cup, not picked for one game and then pushed to No.7 for the next. But he and Mohammad Hafeez will continue to replace Imad Wasim - the bowler.

Probable XI: Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Sarfaraz Ahmed (c&wk), Shoaib Malik, Asif Ali, Shadab Khan, Wahab Riaz, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Amir

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka are likely to enforce one, if not two, changes. Jeevan Mendis will provide the insurance for their misfiring middle-order, which is likely to push Suranga Lakmal to the bench. If the game is shortened at the start, expect young Avishka Fernando to replace Lahiru Thirimanne.

Probable XI: Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Kusal Perera (wk), Lahiru Thirimanne/Avishka Fernando, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Dhananjaya de Silva, Jeevan Mendis, Thisara Perera, Isuru Udana, Nuwan Pradeep, Lasith Malinga

Did you know?

- 103, 101, 30 & 69* - Babar Azam's scores in the last ODI series versus Sri Lanka.

- Sri Lanka's middle-order (Nos. 4 to 7) average 26.94 per wicket - the lowest among World Cup nations - in the last 12 months.

- 4 for 5, 5 for 14, 3 for 6, 4 for 36, 4 for 20 - Sri Lanka's batting collapses in the last five ODIs.

What they said:

"I think Babar Azam has come a long way. His game is improving all the time and so is his strike-rate. I think he's close to the top of his game. He is really exciting to watch. He is going to be one of the best players in the world." - Grant Flower, the Pakistan batting coach, is under no doubts who the fulcrum of the batting order is.

"Pakistan is an unpredictable team and we also come into this game on a winning note. The win always gives you confidence. Finally we got that. We did good things in that match. But we have parts to learn about the batting. We have to focus on that and make sure we don't repeat the mistakes." - Dimuth Karunaratne is hopeful his team has turned a corner after the Afghanistan game.

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