All eyes are fixated on Rawalpindi as Pakistan prepares to host its first Test match on home soil for the first time in the last decade. The two-match series promises to be a huge steppingstone in the history of Pakistan Cricket, giving relief to a whole generation of Pakistani players deprived of playing and even watching Tests being held in their own country.
It is a massive confidence booster for both the PCB and the Pakistani fans alike that Sri Lanka, who were at the wrong end of the unfortunate gun attack back in 2009, have agreed to feature in a Test series in Pakistan. Having played a limited overs series earlier this year, the tourists have now arrived with a full-fledged squad with most of their Test regulars accompanying them on the trip.
Test Cricket in Pakistan certainly doesn't come about every day and till the very first bowl is delivered in the chilly Rawalpindi morning tomorrow, the focus is very much going to remain on the larger significance of this Sri Lankan tour. The tourists touched down on Pakistani soil with high spirits and received a warm welcome amid tight security. Safe to say that they’ll make loads of fans in Pakistan just for agreeing on making the trip.
As far as the Cricket is concerned, Pakistan have brought back Fawad Alam to instill some stability and experience into the middle order. The bowling attack has also been rejuvenated in an attempt to scrape away the effects of the disastrous Australian tour that must have scarred the Pakistani bowling battery, both mentally and spiritually.
Pakistan looked out of sorts in the two Tests against Australia where Misbah’s plan to field an inexperienced, young-blood oozing side misfired badly. Ian Chappell regarded this Pakistani team as the “worst of the lot” amongst other Pakistani teams who have visited the Australian shores over the years. The bowling attack was venom-less and very unlike Pakistan in a way that there was no intensity and intent shown to blast away the opposition or wear them down with clever tactics.
Gone are the heydays of Pakistani bowling of Pakistani bowling and the sights of a Pakistani pacer ripping through Australia on a spicy track are all but a distant memory. Naseem Shah and Shaheen Shah Afridi provided divided glimmers of hope during the series, but they proved to be too raw and unpolished for professional Cricket of this level. With the willow, Babar Azam was the pick of the players as he once again showed that he is an improved Test player now and is hungry to notch up more in the longest format. Shan Masood showed good application at the top of the order, but he will be gutted with himself for not going on to make it big for his country.
Pakistan would hope that they could flush out the negativity and the demoralizing from the team when they march out into the field in front of their home crowds. The teenage duo of Muhammad Musa and Naseem Shah has been left out with the uncapped Usman Shinwari slotted into the team. Fawad Alam is expected to cement a playing XI spot straightaway on his return to the international scene after ten years.
Pakistan’s Squad: Shan Masood, Imam-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali(c), Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Rizwan(w), Yasir Shah, Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Abbas, Fawad Alam, Imran Khan, Usman Shinwari, Kashif Bhatti, Abid Ali, Naseem Shah
Sri Lanka, on the contrary, have done a lot better in the game’s most favored format than most people realize. Currently placed sixth in the ICC Test Rankings, the visitors are coming off a year with a mishmash of results. After losing miserably in New Zealand and Australia, Sri Lanka managed to beat a top-draw South African side in South Africa. If that isn’t all, they ended up drawing a home Test series against the Kiwis, just recently to mark off a remarkably unpredictable year in the format.
Unlike their shorter-format leg in Pakistan earlier in the year where they managed to clean sweep the No.1 T20I side on their home turf, Sri Lanka are now accompanied by their Test mainstays and have brought a near full-strength squad with them. Sri Lanka won the last Test series between the two teams, handing Pakistan a rare defeat in their adopted home of UAE when Rangana Herath rushed through the Pakistan batting line to seal a dramatic victory in the fading light on Day 5.
It’s interesting to note that Mickey Arthur, who coached Pakistan for a good three years and played a prominent role in the development and grooming of players like Babar Azam, Shadab Khan, and Hasan Ali has now been appointed as the head coach of Sri Lanka. The ex-Pakistani coach will be assuming responsibility of the role with the start of this series and has got a nice bunch of players with versatile skills to work with. Sri Lanka will be without their premier pacer, Suranga Lakmal, who was diagnosed with dengue fever and consequently left out. Kasun Rajitha has also been picked in place of the suspended Akila Dananjaya.
Sri Lanka’s Squad: Dimuth Karunaratne(c), Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Kusal Perera, Dhananjaya de Silva, Niroshan Dickwella(w), Dilruwan Perera, Lasith Embuldeniya, Lahiru Kumara, Vishwa Fernando, Dinesh Chandimal, Kasun Rajitha, Asitha Fernando, Oshada Fernando, Lakshan Sandakan
Rain is forecasted for days two and three but it is not supposed to be too threatening for too long. Conditions will remain overcast throughout the Test match and with a pitch that is deemed to be supportive for the pacemen, fast bowlers in both camps should be licking their lips for the prospects that lie ahead. Pakistan are currently on a six-match losing streak - their joint worst and will be looking to amend their playing patters and get back on the winning track.