Bowlers give Pakistan added punch
Match FactsPakistan v Sri Lanka, October 18, Abu Dhabi
Start time 1000 (0600 GMT)
This Pakistan team has coped well amid controversy and several off-field distractions. The workings of an embattled cricket board, Zulqarnain Haider's 'disappearance', Shahid Afridi's conditional retirement from international cricket and the information emerging out of the ongoing spot-fixing trial are all unsettling developments but results on the field have been the bright spot for Pakistan cricket in these troubled times. Since the spot-fixing controversy broke out, they have drawn with South Africa, beaten New Zealand away, drawn with West Indies away, beaten Zimbabwe and made it to the semi-final of this year's World Cup.
They now have a new board chairman - whose term, many would hope, will be less calamitous - and a new interim coach who is also their chief selector. In a relatively less chaotic build-up than some series past, Pakistan have had the time to prepare well for this assignment and will back themselves to come out on top in familiar conditions. In Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz, Abdur Rehman and Saeed Ajmal, they have a strong bowling attack that has the ability to win Test matches. Their batting line-up is less experienced than their opponents but on tracks traditionally known to be batsman-friendly, the extra pace and the variations of their spinners will be much relied upon.
Sri Lanka - who have a new coach in Geoff Marsh - haven't won a Test since July 2010 and with the retirement of Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga, their ability to bowl the opposition out in the five-day format has been questioned. They certainly have the batsmen to put up big scores - and they'll be looking to cash in on the usually placid tracks in the Middle East - but can they put sides under pressure and take 20 wickets with their current bowling line-up? Rangana Herath has emerged as the lead spinner following Murali's exit but doubts remain over how well the pace attack can complement him. Suranga Lakmal, Dammika Prasad, Chanaka Welegedera, Angelo Mathews and the uncapped Kosala Kulasekara and Nuwan Pradeep are their pace options, but their counterparts from Pakistan have proved a more potent combination. In conditions that have usually favoured batsmen, it could be the better bowling line-up that decides the series.
Sri Lanka: DDLDD
Umar Gul: As Pakistan's most experienced bowler, Gul will have to bend his back. He'll know that the performance of the bowlers could well make the difference in this series and his extra pace, nip and accuracy will be a key weapon in Pakistan's arsenal. He'll need the support from his fellow bowlers though; the weather in the UAE can be quite unforgiving, so it'll be as much a battle of stamina as of skill. He played for Sussex and pulled in a few good performances in the Twenty20 competition, and also had a first-class game for Habib Bank prior to this series.
Rangana Herath: He may have to become his side's workhorse much as Murali had done in Tests. He'll have to bear the heat and bowl plenty of overs and his variations could come in handy against a relatively inexperienced Pakistan batting line-up. He's adept at changing lengths and imparts a significant amount of turn on tracks that are conducive. He also has the left-arm spinner's doosra - the one that turns in much like a chinaman would but without the wrist action. His team has the batsmen to pile on the runs but whether or not he can prove a matchwinner with the ball remains to be seen.
Shoaib Malik's been picked in the Test squad but will Pakistan go ahead with Asad Shafiq in the absence of Umar Akmal, who's been dropped for this series? It'll also be interesting to see if Pakistan go in with three seamers. Aizaz Cheema had an impressive Test debut in Zimbabwe, and leaving him out will be a tough call.
Pakistan (likely): 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Taufeeq Umar, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq, 6 Asad Shafiq, 7 Adnan Akmal (wk), 8 Umar Gul, 9 Wahab Riaz, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Aizaz Cheema/Abdur Rehman (up the order if picked)
Sri Lanka will also have to decide whether to go in with three seamers or play two specialist spinners. They have Suraj Randiv in their ranks. They are without seamer Shaminda Eranga for this series - he's out injured - and have called in the untested Kosala Kulasekara to take his place.
Sri Lanka (likely): 1 Tharanga Paranavitana, 2 Lahiru Thirimanne, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Tillakaratne Dilshan (capt), 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), 8 Kosala Kulasekara/Suraj Randiv/Nuwan Pradeep, 9 Rangana Herath, 10 Chanaka Welegedera, 11 Suranga Lakmal
Pitch and conditions
The previous Test - and the only one played at the venue - was a high-scoring one involving Pakistan and South Africa. Misbah, Shafiq and Azhar Ali were all among the runs and the track played flat for the bulk of the game. Both teams wouldn't mind a spicier pitch than the one used the previous time to give their bowlers an opportunity to strike in the trying heat of the desert.
Stats & Trivia
- Herath and Randiv have accounted for 48 of the 130 wickets Sri Lanka have taken in Tests following the retirement of Murali. Ajantha Mendis, who's not part of the current squad, has picked up 18. The seamers have picked up 52.
- The two teams have played each other on 37 occasions, with Pakistan winning 15 times and Sri Lanka nine. Over the last six years, they've played each other on seven occasions with two wins for Pakistan and one for Sri Lanka.
- For more stats and trivia, here's a comprehensive statistical preview to this series. .
"We can't look back at the last 11 Test matches. That, for us, is in the past. I've taken on the role and been in Sri Lanka for three weeks and we've just really been focusing on getting this squad of players ready for this Test."
Geoff Marsh, the new Sri Lanka coach, isn't thinking about the past
"Everybody knows their roles and we're playing on a consistent basis. There are not many changes in the team."
Misbah-ul-Haq has had success as captain after taking over.
Siddhartha Talya is a sub editor at ESPNcricinfo