After what was a rather anticlimactic return of Test cricket after a decade long absence in the country, Karachi fans will be anticipating a much more enthralling battle as Pakistan and Sri Lanka prepare to lock horns in the second Test.
More than three days of play in the first Test in Rawalpindi were wiped out by rain and inclement weather, but no such troubles are forecast in the coastal city and commercial hub of Pakistan.
The National Stadium in Karachi last played host to a Test in February, 2009 with Sri Lanka being Pakistan’s opponents on that occasion as well. As it prepares to welcome back Test cricket on Thursday, we cast an eye on the key talking points.
Fawad Alam set to be snubbed again
Just like Pakistan have waited more than 10 years to play international red-ball cricket in their own backyard, Fawad Alam has had to endure a similar excruciating wait for his comeback. The left-handed batsman has been racking up the first-class runs at a blistering rate in the domestic circuit over the last few years, only to be continuously snubbed for a Pakistan Test return.
That changed after he recently became the second quickest Pakistan batsmen to breach the 12, 000 first-class runs mark, with Misbah-ul-Haq finally rewarding him for his perseverance with a call up for the Sri Lanka series.
However, the 34-year-old did not find a spot in the playing XI in the Rawalpindi Test, with Pakistan opting to continue with the misfiring Haris Sohail in the middle-order. Sohail didn’t get a chance to bat in the series opener after Abid Ali and Babar Azam registered unbeaten tons in the truncated clash.
Hence, the hosts are likely to persist with the incumbent and the only changes are likely to come in the bowling department. Unfortunately for Alam, it would mean missing out a Test comeback on his home ground in Karachi.
Pace concerns for both sides
Both teams come into the Karachi clash with cause for concern in their respective pace departments. Sri Lanka are more hard-pressed in that regard with 26-year-old Kasun Rajitha joining the injured party for the tour.
The right-armed pacer injured himself during his new-ball spell in Rawalpindi, and has been ruled out of the second Test. That means Sri Lanka are now without two front-line pace bowlers after senior spearhead Suranga Lakmal pulled out of the tour earlier due to dengue.
Skipper Dimuth Karunaratne will now have to hand a Test debut to 22-year-old Asitha Fernando if he wants to retain a three-man pace attack for the Test. Fernando has only made one international appearance previously and it came more than two years ago in an ODI against Zimbabwe. Karunaratne does hold the option of going in with two spinners instead and field either of Lakshan Sandakan or Lasith Embuldeniya to supplement veteran Dilruwan Perera.
Pakistan, meanwhile, will have to make do without Usman Shinwari who has been diagnosed with typhoid ahead of the final Test. The hosts do have Imran Khan waiting in the wings, but they are more likely to go in with the leg-spin option of Yasir Shah after surprisingly fielding an all-pace attack in Rawalpindi.
Pressure on Azhar Ali to lead from the front
While the tame draw in Rawalpindi did earn Pakistan their first points in the World Test Championship, much more will be needed in Karachi if they are to make the most of what is a rare true home advantage.
The pressure to win a first Test match since November last year is well and truly on the players as well as head coach and chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq. More particularly, though, the onus is on skipper Azhar Ali to lead from the front. The 34-year-old’s appointment as Test skipper has not been a popular decision, especially considering his dwindling returns with the bat.
He failed miserably in all four innings in the Australia tour, and was able to only labour to a 36-run knock in Rawalpindi before falling to a timid dismissal. That was a pitch on which Abid Ali registered an unbeaten ton on debut and where Babar Azam scored runs for fun to record his third Test ton.
The soon to be 35-year-old is now averaging a paltry 13.50 in his last 12 Test innings which have yielded a mere 162 runs. The Pakistan skipper has admitted to feeling the heat ahead of the final Test, saying, “I am going through a bad patch but I am not out of form.”
“I am middling the ball well. It is a matter of one good innings and I know I can get back into form.
“But yes, if I feel things are not working out for me and I am not contributing to the team, I would prefer to step aside myself.”
Pakistan: Shan Masood, Abid Ali, Azhar Ali (c), Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Yasir Shah, Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Abbas, Naseem Shah.
Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Oshada Fernando, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Dhananjaya de Silva, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dilruwan Perera, Vishwa Fernando, Laisth Embuldeniya, Lahiru Kumara.
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