Bruised and scarred were Sri Lanka when they left Pakistan midway through a Test match following that infamous gun attack on their team in 2009. Ten years and nine months on, they return to Pakistan to conclude the unfinished job and bring an end to the misery of Pakistan as far as hosting International Cricket of the highest order is concerned. All eyes are fixated on Rawalpindi as it prepares to host the first-ever Test match on Pakistani soil in the last decade or so. In this piece, we delve into the details of how the two teams stack up before this two-match Test series that has a greater context attached to it in terms of the World Test Championship.
Sri Lanka toured Pakistan for a shorter-format leg earlier in the year, too. At that time, though, several regulars of their national team refused to make the trip including prominent names like Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Dimuth Karunaratne, and others. However, seeing the success of that trip and the foolproof security measures, most of these high-profile cricketers agreed to tour Pakistan for the longer format. Karunarate will be skippering the Sri Lankan team during the Test series.
Sri Lankan fast bowler Suranga Lakmal will miss the two-match Test series after contracting dengue fever. He will be replaced by Asitha Fernando, who will join the squad for the second match of the series in Karachi. Kasun Rajitha has also been named in the squad in place for Akila Dananjaya who was recently suspended due to an illegal bowling action. In fact, this is the only change from the squad that played New Zealand in August at home.
The 26-year-old Kasun Rajitha has featured in six Tests and has been quite impressive with the ball in hand. He has picked up 23 wickets at 29.56 and was the second-highest wicket-taker from either side when Sri Lanka sealed an utterly historic and upsetting Test series triumph over the Proteas in South Africa earlier this year.
He could feature in the four-pronged pace attack for Sri Lanka if they decide to leave out Dilruwan Perera given the overcast conditions and a fresh, zippy track on offer in Rawalpindi. Since the retirement of the spin-master, Rangana Herath, Perera has had to shoulder most of the responsibility. Kusal Perera, who has been in a lean patch ever since playing that dramatic innings earlier in the year in South Africa may be replaced by the returning Chandimal. Sri Lanka have got a stable-looking side on offer with a versatile set of skills.
Sri Lanka’s Announced 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
The hosts, on the contrary, have also named a full-fledged squad to take over the Sri Lankans. Fawad Alam’s agonizingly long wait of a recall to the national set up has finally been eavesdropped and listened to. His consistent performances in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy, Pakistan’s domestic tournament, have been rewarded with a Test selection. Alam would be aware that this might be the only chance he gets to press his claim for a regular spot in the side.
The southpaw has amassed 781 runs at 71 in this year already, racking up four hundreds and six fifties and swelling his overall first-class average way above the 50 mark. Alam replaces Iftikhar Ahmed in the middle-order who had a torrid run in Australia in Pakistan’s whites, managing only 44 runs from the 4 innings that he played. The 19-year old pacer, Muhammad Musa Khan, has also been sidelined from the Test squad with the uncapped Usman Shinwari coming into his spot.
Kashif Bhatti, another performer in the domestic circuit, will once again be tripping with the squad just like he did in Australia without being given the cap. Shan Masood and Imam-ul-Haq are expected to remain opening partners with Fawad slotting into the middle order.
Haris Sohail, whose technical frailties were badly exploited by the Australian pacemen, may find his spot handed over to a deserving Fawad Alam. Pakistan are expected to field a strong side after the Down Under drubbing where there was no experience in or around the team as they contracted under pressure and failed.
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