The battle for the dominance in the Test arena of the subcontinent begins with the first of the three match series between Asian cricketing giants, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Coming from an ODI series loss against the home side and poor batting form in recent months, Pakistan will be looking to continue their impressive run in Test matches under their new coach Dav Whatmore.
Misbah ul Haq faces a ban for the first test due to an over-rate offense in the last ODI. The home side will be keen to bank on this situation and improve their dismal test record over the past year and also extract revenge for the drubbing they received from Pakistan in all three formats of the game last year in UAE.
June 22, Galle International Stadium, Galle
Starting Time: 1030 Local Time (0500 GMT time)
Galle traditionally has been a great wicket for spinners. Over the years Muttiah Muralitharan has taken 111 wickets at this ground, giving Sri Lanka an intimidating win-loss record of ten wins and four losses at this venue; which includes a 75 run win over world’s #1 test side England earlier this year. Although the pitch offers some runs to the batsmen, with rain around, and a heavy outfield, batting may get difficult.
Both these teams are likely to play 2 specialist spinners in the side.
In the absensnce of Misbah Ul Haq, the out of form Mohammed Hafeez will be leading the Pakistani side. Faisal Iqbal, nephew of the legendary Javed Miandad will possibly come in for Misbah. While the ODI future of batting stalwart, Younis Khan is being discussed by the Pakistan selectors, the team still needs him in the longer format of the game.
Pakistan Starting XI (probable)
M. Hafeez, T Umar, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, A Shafiq, F Iqbal , A Akmal,
A Rehman, A Cheema, U Gul, S Ajmal
Sri Lanka Starting XI (probable)
T Dilshan, M Jayawardene, K Sangakkara, T Samaraweera, D Chandimal, T Paranavitana, A Mathews,
S Randiv, N Kulasekera, R Herath, C Welegedara
Ali has been the saving grace in the run scorers list for Pakistan on this tour. A specialist opening batsman, Azhar Ali might find himself batting at one down. Knowing how opener Taufiq Umar struggles against seam bowling, Ali might find himself batting against the Sri Lankan new ball attack that includes the in form Kulusekara.
The stand in skipper for the 1st test will feel the pressure of filling in Misbah’s boots. Misbah has had a very successful run in the Tests over the past year. Apart from ensuring his side does not go 1 down in the series, Hafeez also needs to deal with his poor recent batting form. Despite his batting woes, he remains a good spinner and would be especially dangerous to the left handed Sangakkara on a turning wicket.
S Ajmal and R Herath
The two lead spinners for their respective sides will have a crucial role to play in the opening test on a turning Galle wicket.
Saeed Ajmal has not had any impactful performances in the recent ODI series against the home side. However, his speciality is bowling to an attacking field in Test Matches.
Rangana Herath, after Muralitharan is the highest wicket taker at this venue. Over the years he has amassed 30 wickets in 6 test matches at an average of 23.50. He will truly test the mettle of the fragile batting order of the Pakistan team.
Both the teams can claim to be the current best test side from the subcontinent, and a victory in the first test is important to set momentum for the rest of the series. Individually, Hafeez and coach Dav Whatmore would want to prove their leadership and management abilities after taking over new roles. However, with chances of rains, could this match end in a likely draw?