After fans in Karachi were treated to some rare international cricket action in the just concluded ODI series, it is now the turn of Lahore to rejoice as Pakistan and Sri Lanka prepare to do battle in a three-match T20I series beginning on Saturday.
Nearly two years after Sri Lanka turned up at Gaddafi Stadium for a one-off T20 clash, the islanders arrive at the historic venue once again to help return some normalcy after what has been a nearly decade long drought of high-quality international cricket in the country.
The visitors, however, will be hoping for a much better outcome than the preceding ODI series where they were blanked 0-2 by Sarfraz Ahmed and his men.
T20 Kings aiming to bring back the good times
The mandate for new head coach cum chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq has been clear from the very start and it is to improve Pakistan’s fortunes in the Test and ODI formats.
While the widely respected former Pakistan skipper’s main revolution will have to come in those two formats, it is in the 20-over version where he might find his most immediate success.
The Men in Green are the undisputed kings of the shortest format with their No1 ranking remaining undisturbed for a long time running now. With the T20 World Cup in Australia just over a year away, Misbah will not want to let the momentum drop as he seeks to usher in a new era for Pakistan cricket.
However, Pakistan have suffered setbacks lately in the format with three losses to show in their last four encounters and they will want to put the record straight once again as they take on a side against whom they enjoy a 13-5 win-loss record.
They will look towards their newly appointed vice-captain Babar Azam to continue his fabulous form with the No1 ranked T20I batsman in the world registering a fine ton in the recent ODI series.
Inexperienced visitors look to find the cutting edge
Taking on the No1 ranked T20I outfit in their own den is no small task and Sri Lanka’s problems are only compounded by the absence of their senior stars, such as Lasith Malinga and Angelo Mathews.
Despite missing 10 big names on the tour, the islanders have showed there is plenty of potential in their reserves with the likes of Shehan Jayasuruiya, Danushka Gunathilaka and Dasun Shanaka putting their hands up at various stages of the ODI series loss.
While Pakistan did manage to win both ODIs convincingly, there has been plenty for Sri Lanka to be optimistic about and it has been their failure to withstand the pressure at critical junctures that has cost them in the two losses.
T20Is has traditionally been the Achilles heel for the visitors who have a 57-59 overall win-loss record in the format. However, a young and inexperienced side with nothing to lose might just be the antidote they need for their T20 woes.
The return of the discards
Misbah sprung many surprises in naming his first T20 squad as Pakistan chief selector with the likes of Umar Akmal, Ahmed Shehzad and Faheem Ashraf being handed international recalls for the upcoming series.
Umar, in particular, will be under the spotlight with his penchant for causing controversy time and time again. The 29-year-old has flattered to deceive on many occasions in what has been a stop-start Pakistan career, but he will be eager to seize his chance after being recalled for the umpteenth time to the national team.
Meanwhile, Shehzad will hope to get a chance to open the innings in the absence of Imam-ul-Haq and Abid Ali with the right-hander making his international return after serving his suspension for a doping violation.
Misbah has shown that he is willing to forgive past transgressions with the lifelines handed to Umar and Shehzad, however, they must now ensure that they make it count in front of what is expected to be a sell-out crowd at the Gaddafi.
Pakistan: Fakhar Zaman, Ahmed Shehzad, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Umar Akmal, Asif Ali, Sarfraz Ahmed (c and wk), Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Usman Shinwari.
Sri Lanka: Avishka Fernando, Danushka Gunathilaka, Oshada Fernando, Angelo Perera, Minod Bhanuka (wk), Shehan Jayasuriya, Dasun Shanaka (c), Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Rajitha, Lakshan Sandakan, Isuru Udana.
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