Pakistan v Sri Lanka: Hosts come alive in the middle session as Test cricket returns after 10 years

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An early stoppage due to bad light marred a historic occasion slightly, as Test cricket made its return to Pakistan after more than a decade in Rawalpindi.

It was Sri Lanka who won the toss in the momentous Test with skipper Dimuth Karunaratne having no hesitation in electing to bat first at the renovated Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium.

A strong start by the visitors, followed by an excellent middle session for the hosts and a curtailed ending, saw Sri Lanka reach 202-5 before stumps were drawn on the first day of the Test.

Here, we take a look at the key talking points from Day One with Pakistan’s strange selection calls for the playing XI getting a special mention.

Pakistan surprise with all-pace attack

No place for Yasir Shah in surprising move.

No place for Yasir Shah in surprising move.

There was a big surprise on the cards when Pakistan’s playing XI was announced at the toss, with the hosts unconventionally going in with an all-pace attack. Leg-spinner Yasir Shah was omitted, as was Kashif Bhatti, with seamer Usman Khan Shinwari being handed his Test debut instead.

Meanwhile, Fawad Alam’s Test return will have to wait after the prolific middle-order batsman was left out of the playing XI on his Pakistan return. Instead, Misbah-ul-Haq opted to keep faith in Haris Sohail despite his dismal returns in all formats on the tour of Australia.

It was the omission of Yasir Shah which was the biggest puzzler though, with the leg-spinner enjoying a stellar bowling record in Asian conditions. 150 of Shah’s 207 Test wickets have come in Asia (UAE, Sri Lanka and Pakistan) in a span of just 22 matches. Granted, he did not have the best of tours with the ball in Australia but to be dropped after registering a maiden ton, in conditions where he is supposed to excel, was baffling to say the least.

If anything, it was in Australia where Shah should have been dropped given his poor track record in the country.

Pakistan come alive in middle session

Young Naseem Shah grabbed two wickets on the opening day.

Young Naseem Shah grabbed two wickets on the opening day.

Pakistan’s decision to field an all-pace attack was starting to look foolish fairly soon with Sri Lanka’s openers getting away to a great start. Skipper Dimuth Karunarate and Oshada Fernando were largely untroubled in the morning session with the visitors putting on 89-0 before lunch was taken on Day One.

However, whatever the Pakistan bowlers had for lunch clearly worked with the hosts coming out all guns blazing in the second session. A change in line and a more direct attack on the stumps seemed to do the trick for Pakistan, with a hint of late movement in the Rawalpindi air doing the rest.

All four Pakistan pacers grabbed a wicket apiece as Sri Lanka went from 96-0 to 127-4. While Shaheen Afridi bagged the honour of grabbing the first Test wicket on Pakistan soil in over a decade, it was Mohammad Abbas who produced the delivery of the day to cut short Dinesh Chandimal’s Test comeback innings. Playing on his home turf, Abbas got one to jag away right at the very end to rattle the top of Chandimal’s off-stump.

Meanwhile, debutant Shinwari drew an outside edge from Kusal Mendis while young Naseem Shah accounted for Fernando in similar fashion in what was a dream phase of play for Pakistan.

Bad light, poor over-rate and bleak forecast

Afridi (c) limped off the field with an injury.

Afridi (c) limped off the field with an injury.

Just over 68 overs of play was possible on the opening day with bad light bringing an early end to proceedings in Rawalpindi. Even without the disruption by poor lighting, Pakistan’s over-rate had been painfully slow all day. This was greatly due to the fact that they were fielding four pacers with only two overs of part-time spin from Haris Sohail and Shan Masood in between.

This could cost Pakistan greatly in the long run with slow over-rates inviting point-deductions in the ICC World Test Championship. They will really hope that they can pick up the ‘pace’ with the ball in the remainder of the Test to avoid costly penalties as they are yet to even open their account in the championship.

What they also need to be wary about is that rain has been forecast at various stages over the next three days, and that could really scupper their hopes of getting a result in what has been a long-awaited Test on home soil.  To compound matters, Afridi limped off the field with an injury at the start of the final session and did not return for the remainder of the day.

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