Test cricket comes home to Pakistan but Sri Lanka hold edge in battle of two vulnerable teams

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Test cricket’s homecoming in Pakistan after a decade long wait will occur in Rawalpindi on Wednesday when the hosts take on Sri Lanka in the first of the two scheduled matches.

International cricket has slowly been limping back to normalcy in Pakistan in the last few years, but it has been completely restricted to limited overs formats so far.

Hence, the return of red-ball cricket for the first time since March, 2009 is a momentous landmark in Pakistan’s bid to restore the faith of visiting team who could be interested in touring the country in the future.

Test Championship points add extra spice to contest

Sri Lanka have 60 points to their name already.

Sri Lanka have 60 points to their name already.

While the Test series is a historic one for Pakistan, they cannot let the occasion sway their emotions given what else is at stake over the course of the two matches. A valuable 120 World Test Championship points are on offer for both sides in the contest, and it will be particularly of interest to the home team.

Pakistan are yet to open their accounts in the two-year championship after being emphatically whitewashed by 2-0 in their first assignment in Australia last month. As such, the hosts will be desperate to make full use of their home advantage and get their campaign finally running.

Sri Lanka, meanwhile, already have 60 points in their kitty after their drawn 1-1 series at home against New Zealand. With the islanders currently tied with New Zealand in third position in the table, the series will be of significant important given that the Blackcaps are in action against Australia concurrently.

Pressure on Misbah, Arthur looks to start with a bang

Misbah needs results quickly.

Misbah needs results quickly.

Along with a battle of two teams, it is also a battle of coaches with Pakistan’s past and present going head-to-head. Having relieved Mickey Arthur of his duties to appoint Misbah-ul-Haq as the head coach and chief selector hasn’t gone to plan for Pakistan so far, with the team facing disappointments both home and away in his brief tenure.

They were crushed 3-0 at home in a T20I series by a second-string Sri Lankan team before being blanked with effortless ease away in Australia. There has been little to cheer about for Pakistan since Misbah took over and as such, the spotlight will firmly be on the former skipper in front of the home fans. Another loss, especially on home soil, will only pile up the pressure on Misbah who needs to start delivering results instead of simply sprouting rhetoric sooner rather than later.

On the other hand, visiting head coach Arthur couldn’t have asked for a better maiden assignment in his Sri Lanka job as he returns to a country which he knows all too well. Arthur will most definitely have a point to prove to his former employers, especially to Misbah who was a part of the cricket committee which opted against renewing his Pakistan contract earlier this year.

Battle of two topsy-turvy teams but Sri Lanka hold the edge

Sri Lanka whitewashed Pakistan in the UAE in 2017.

Sri Lanka whitewashed Pakistan in the UAE in 2017.

Although home advantage lies with Pakistan, it is hard to make a case for them to be favourites for the series, particularly given their red-ball woes.

Ranked a lowly eighth in the ICC Test rankings, Pakistan have won just four of their last 15 matches in the format with one of them coming against rookies Ireland. In the same run, they have been beaten as many as 10 times and that not even taking into account the 2-0 series whitewash they suffered at the hands of the Lankan in their adopted home in the UAE in 2017.

The islanders themselves have been highly inconsistent in the Test format, but they have still managed to pull out some rabbits out of their hat from time to time like they did against Pakistan in 2017.

They showed they are capable of the occasional brilliance earlier this year as well when they whitewashed South Africa in the Proteas’ own backyard. However, home Test defeats against England and away losses to Australia and New Zealand show that they are still vulnerable in red-ball cricket.

Still, with a No5 ranking, it is not hard to imagine Sri Lanka repeat the trick they performed against Pakistan two years ago.

Expected line-ups

Pakistan: Shan Masood, Imam-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali (c), Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Yasir Shah, Kashif Bhatti, Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Abbas, Naseem Shah.

Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal, Angelo Mathews, Kusal Perera (wk), Oshada Fernando, Dilruwan Perera, Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Rajitha, Vishwa Fernando.

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