Following the rain-truncated first Test that eventually turned out to be a damp squib, the Test Cricket action now shifts to Karachi as the Pakistani city gets engulfed by the buzzing vibe of the return of Test Cricket. Pakistan put up rousing finishing touches to the first Test at Rawalpindi, bringing belated luster to a boisterous crowd that kept showing up to be a part of a historic occasion despite the continuous rain interruptions. Twin tons by Babar Azam and Abid Ali on the final day lit up the house as the two teams shook hands and took 20 points apiece in the World Test Championship.
Pakistan will be aware that they need not get too carried away with the momentousness of the occasion and that it’s their points column in the WTC that needs to be get going. After three matches, they have managed to secure only 20 points and are way down the ladder than they would have liked. Karachi will be a nice hunting ground for the home side to put the feet on the throttle.
Much of the spotlight will be critically focused on the skipper himself. Azhar Ali, once regarded as one of the more solid platforms in the batting line-up, is slowly but surely losing his groove. He has been out of nick for quite some time now. One would feel though that quality players like him only need to string up a big score or two to get back into form and rack up runs at will. He has averaged 13.44 in 2019, thus far, where he’s hobbled his way to 121 runs in five Tests with the highest score of 39.
Speaking of batting, it looks like a new face has emerged in the Pakistani top-order who immediately had an impact. Abid Ali debuting in Rawalpindi emblazoned his name in the history books when he became the first man ever to notch up tons on both Test and ODI debuts. With an electric batting display on Day 5, it is rather certain that Imam-ul-Haq will once again be warming the bench in Karachi.
Pakistan chose to go with an all-pace attack in Rawalpindi given the overcast conditions. However, the trough on offer at the National Stadium of Karachi is thought to offer more assistance to the slower bowlers. That means that Yasir Shah could be slotted back into the playing XI after being dropped for the first Test.
Another intriguing that remains is whether Fawad Alam will get a look-in, a highly awaited return to the national playing XI on his home turf? The inclusion of the left-hand batter, who has piled up records upon records in the domestic circuit, still remains dubious. If he is considered, Haris Sohail is the likeliest person to miss out.
Pakistan’s Probable XI:
Imam-ul-Haq, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali (c), Babar Azam, Haris Sohail/Fawad Alam, Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Yasir Shah, Mohammad Abbas, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah
Sri Lanka would have been pleased with their batting display at Rawalpindi. Under testing conditions on the first morning of the Test, skipper Dimuth Karunaratne and Oshada Fernando stuck it out and gave the visitors a stable start. Despite the scary collapse right after lunch, the middle-order gelled together and showed immense character. Dhananjaya de Silva, in particular, was the star of the innings, showing immaculate technique and graceful stroke play to bring up yet another ton in the format.
All in all, Sri Lanka’s batting combination looks quite good with a nice mishmash of young talent and experienced shoulders. Rather, it’s their blown-out bowling battery that needs a second look as yet another Sri Lankan gets ruled out of the second Test. Before the commencement of the series, Sri Lanka lost their premier pacer, Suranga Lakmal, who contracted dengue fever. The Islanders have now also lost the services of Kasun Rajitha who has been ruled out due to hamstring injury.
Sri Lanka’s inability to make breakthroughs on the final day of the first would have been a slight worry but it would also have given them the food for thought as to what attack they should field on a supposedly flat deck in Karachi. It will be interesting to see whether go in with the uncapped fast-bowler Asitha Fernando or decide to bolster their spin options with either of Lasith Embuldeniya or Lakshan Sandakan slotted into the playing XI.
Sri Lanka’s Probable XI:
Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Lahiru Thiramanne, Kusal Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal, Angelo Mathews, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dhananjaya de Silva, Dilruwan Perera, Lahiru Kumara, Vishwa Fernando, Lasith Embuldeniya/Lakshan Sandakan/Asitha Fernando
The last test played at the National Stadium of Karachi was also between Pakistan and Sri Lanka when Younis Khan notched up the famous triple-century against a full-strength Sri Lankan attack. The last instance of Pakistan beating Sri Lanka in a Test series at home was way back in 1991-92. Pakistan would dearly love to bring an end to that streak and also close out the year with a Test win under their belt.