Sri Lanka coach Rumesh Ratnayake lavished praise on Pakistan upon the conclusion of his side’s tour, calling the hospitality Sri Lanka had received “a privilege to be appreciated”. Speaking to the media after the visitors beat Pakistan by 13 runs to complete a 3-0 T20I series whitewash, Ratnayake said the tour had gone very smoothly, and made him confident his side soon wouldn’t be the only ones to have visited Pakistan.
“This tour is a message for the whole world, and especially a message for future Sri Lankans,” Ratnayake said. “This has gone very smoothly. Us playing here will encourage so many other countries to also to be here.
“To experience the hospitality of Pakistan is a great thing; I’ve experienced it after a long, long time, and if anything, it’s got even better. It was a lot of hard work for the whole system to have us here.
“You’ve done a great job in having us here and the security has been impeccable. I’ve enjoyed every moment of it even though some of us came in doubt. But the doubt has been taken out now so I would like to thank you all for making it happen.”
Sri Lanka were originally scheduled to visit Pakistan for a two-match Test series, but with several first-team players opting against travelling, the PCB and the SLC agreed to have Sri Lanka over for a limited-overs tour. The Test series the sides are drafted to play against each other will form part of the World Test Championship, with wins and losses particularly significant in smaller series like this one. That is understood to be one of the major stumbling blocks for the series taking place in Pakistan, as Sri Lanka would not have their full-strength side to choose from.
However, with Sri Lanka cleaning up the T20I series in surprisingly comfortable fashion with the players available to them, and the general sense of safety Ratnayake said they felt over the fortnight, he sensed the prospect of his side playing Test cricket in Pakistan had increased. While admitting the board couldn’t force anyone to come who wasn’t willing, he suggested those watching at home would have seen “it is safe to be here”.
“We’ll certainly explain that to them and they’ll have seen it as well. We’ll try and convince them as much as we can, but we cannot enforce anything. Hopefully, they’ve changed by seeing this series be so successful.
“The crowd has been the same as 30 years ago; it hasn’t changed,” Ratnayake, who played seven Tests and 16 ODIs in Pakistan over the course of his career, said. “It was very touching when they were holding up signs saying ‘Welcome Sri Lanka’ and it was very moving to see that affection from the people.”
“If you remember the first press conference I did here, I said we’ll be playing against giants. We were the midgets then, so to speak, but now these boys are on par with anybody.”
But while the words off the pitch were friendly enough from the visitors, Sri Lanka haven’t exactly been apprehensive guests, especially since they arrived in Lahore. A 2-0 ODI series win for Pakistan in Karachi suggested this might be the sort of tour on which Sri Lanka gained experience rather than having results go their way. But Lahore saw a remarkable turnaround, with the supposedly weakened hosts putting Pakistan to the sword in all three games, and sealing their first-ever 3-0 T20I whitewash in the process. Ratnayake said calling them a weak unit would be inaccurate.
“It was not the weakest team. We chose the best team. In Sri Lanka we have about 30-40 good players, so whichever we chose we were most confident of. We believed they could do something at the highest level. We emphasised being fearless and having that belief and also the confidence to take good decisions. Good decisions give you the chance of winning a match. They were fearless and they executed our game plans brilliantly.
“This performance will bring about a huge effect on the spectators, on our supporters, and on the players themselves. Our school system is a very good system. And those [young] players who are watching, the future players will certainly take heart from this and take courage and you’ll see a huge impetus in the growth of the game in the future.
“What we were looking for is consistency. We won here, but as a coach what I’d like to see is do we have consistency in the future? This is just T20, there are two other formats, and we should not be over-awed by this. But certainly, we need to take a leaf from this and that should help us take it to another level in all aspects of the game.”
Oshada Fernando looks at the heavens after bringing up fifty AFP
It wasn’t just that Sri Lanka didn’t have their full quota to choose from. By the third T20I, they got downright funky with team selections. Having stuck with the same XI for the first two games, they decided to give the entire bench a run out for the final contest, making five changes. That, as some noted, effectively made the playing XI a third-choice side, but it wouldn’t prevent the visitors from beating Pakistan by 13 runs. Indeed, the Players-of-the-Match in the second and third T20I were two Sri Lankan batsmen who had never played a single T20I game before this series.
“Some of them [the players] we wouldn’t have seen if Asantha de Mel [chairman of selectors] hadn’t taken the bold decision of playing the five players who hadn’t been part of the side today. We weren’t even sure what combinations we would play, but you saw Oshada Fernando and Bhanuka Rajapaksa in this series because of that.”