Cricket punters could be forgiven for feeling a little nervous about the prospect of betting Pakistan for their upcoming one-day series against Sri Lanka. As short favourites, their form is hardly pristine.
In the Test series that preceded, Pakistan were expected to comfortably deal with the challenge posed by their neighbours. They had a terrific unbeaten record in the UAE, and Lanka were missing key players and had shown disappointing Test form. But despite almost everything pointing to a home win, they were stunned. They went down 2-0, including an alarming batting collapse in the first match.
On Friday in Dubai they play the first of five ODI and despite their implosion they go off as strong jollies. They are 1.1617 at BMR's green-listed bookmakers to take a 1-0 lead with Lanka 2.5000 (Betfair).
Those odds aren’t that surprising. Pakistan are, after all, the Champions Trophy winners. They produced scintillating ODI cricket in England in the summer to lift what is known as the mini World Cup. But they are not at full-strength for this contest. They have lost Mohammad Amir to a shin injury. His absence is a big factor because he formed a potent partnership with the excellent Hasan Ali. Another blow is an injury to Azhar Ali, the opener and former skipper.
There is a bit of a golden rule when it comes to ODI betting and Pakistan. And that is to never trust them when they are odds-on. Champions Trophy holders or not, they are only worth siding with when they are the outsiders – and for almost every game of that competition they were exactly that.
Quite why it is we don’t know, but the psyche of the Pakistani cricketer is one which is much more comfortable when little is expected of him and the pressure is off. Perhaps this goes back to Imran Khan’s famous “fight like cornered tigers” speech which inspired their first World Cup win.
Of course, we respect some of the Pakistan players here. Sarfaraz Ahmed, the captain, is one of our favourite players. Babar Azam is one of the finest top-order players in the world now while Junaid Khan will do a good job in the absence of Amir.
But they are not value, particularly with Sri Lanka picking some game-changers in their own right. With the bat, Kusal Mendis is an emerging talent and his career looks set to follow the same trajectory as Babar. He could well break into the world’s top 10 batters.
He is supported by the wily Upul Tharanga, who leads, and another cool head in the form of Chamara Kapugedera. We also like the all-round talents of Thisara Perrera and Seekkuge Prasanna. It should be a close contest.