Test cricket returns to Pakistan after a 10-year hiatus as Sri Lanka visit for a two-match series which will be part of the ICC Test Championship. The hosts are among the four teams that are yet to get any points on board while the Islanders have 60 points from four games.
Ahead of the series that begins on December 11 at Rawalpindi, let us take a look at the key player battles.
Dimuth Karunaratne vs Azhar Ali
Sri Lankan captain Dimuth Karunaratne is the only batsman from both teams to feature in the top ten of the ICC Test rankings. He is the mainstay in the lineup and will be expected to provide solidity to the top order which will be up against a potent pace attack.
Pakistan’s captain, Azhar Ali has had a difficult start as the captain of the Test team, enduring back to back defeats by an innings against Australia. Ali too opens the batting and will be facing a far less threatening bowling attack.
He has been in stellar form in first-class cricket, scoring two centuries and two fifties in his past five games at home.
As a skipper, Karunaratne averages 41.62 from four games and has scored one century and one half-century. He needs to be at the top of his game to protect the middle-order from the opening burst of Shaheen Afridi and co.
Mohammad Rizwan vs Kusal Perera
One of Pakistan’s few bright spots in the series against Australia was their wicket-keeper batsman Mohammad Rizwan.
The 27-year-old produced a stellar knock at Brisbane in the second innings and was unlucky to miss out on a ton. He is a fluent batsman once he gets going and tends to score quickly.
Sri Lanka’s Kusal Perera is also an attractive lower order batsman who can turn the match on its head with his belligerent batting.
His unbeaten 153 in the fourth innings at Durban was one of the knocks of the year 2019 as Sri Lanka claimed a crucial win over South Africa.
One of the greatest innings ever.— AnujSharma (@anujsharmasport) February 16, 2019
A star emerges from #SriLanka
*150 plus in 4th innings
*chasing 300 plus
*away from home
*in South Africa
*against South Africa attack
*guiding no.11 in big unbeaten partnership
*remaining not out till the end
*winning the test#KusalPerera https://t.co/ZyivfaSpPn
In terms of glovework, Rizwan probably edges his Sri Lankan counterpart with his impeccable wicket-keeping skills.
Babar Azam vs Kusal Mendis
The battle of the middle-order stalwarts. Babar Azam is certainly one of the world’s best in limited overs cricket and is slowly but surely proving his quality in the longer format.
He scored one century and one half-century during the tour of Australia and is in red hot form. Against a struggling Sri Lankan side, he will be keen to establish his credentials with a solid showing in this series.
Kusal Mendis is a talented batsman who has so far failed to deliver on his promise. He has shown the occasional flashes of brilliance like when he scored a match-winning 176 against Australia at the beginning of his career or when he raced to an unbeaten 84 to help Sri Lanka to a victory at Port Elizabeth in 2019.
However, such moments have been far and few for Mendis and he needs to step up for the visitors to have a good showing on their return to Pakistan.
Lakshan Sandakan vs Yasir Shah
Both Pakistan and Sri Lanka have named only one wrist-spinner in their respective squads.
While Yasir Shah is a veteran who has more than 200 wickets, Lakshan Sandakan has been in and out of the Sri Lankan side, managing only 37 wickets.
Yasir Shah is certainly the better batsman of the two but after a dismal series with the ball against Australia, he will be keen to show why he was earlier regarded among the best in the world.
If selected, Sandakan will be playing his first Test in over a year. He needs to bowl tight in this series in order to sustain his place in the team.
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