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November 2, 2011
Pakistan v Sri Lanka, November 3-7, Sharjah
Start time 1000 (0600 GMT)
The Pakistan side that takes guard on Thursday will also be unrecognisable from the flashy crowd-pullers that used to grace this venue back in the day. More tellingly, they have little in common with the outfit that sizzled with the ball and floundered with the bat in England last summer. The last time Pakistan lined up for Test cricket in Sharjah, they were handed two ruthless hammerings by Australia, including the ignominy of being bowled out for 59 and 53 in the same match. Misbah-ul-Haq, Younis Khan and Taufeeq Umar were a part of that series in 2002, and each of them would disappear into Pakistan's fringes before re-emerging, stronger than ever. The trio lends the Pakistan line-up a look of steel that was last seen when Inzamam-ul-Haq was still playing. The bowling line-up has lost the Mohammads Asif and Amir but Junaid Khan has already replicated their ability to hoop the ball each way - that too under an unrelenting sun and on unresponsive tracks.
While Pakistan have blended their innate flair with discipline to take a 1-0 lead, their opponents continue to regress inexplicably. Muttiah Muralitharan's absence has left the bowling hamstrung, but that is only one half of the story. The lack of bowling nous has put Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene under such intense pressure that it has affected their productivity with the bat. The captain, Tillakaratne Dilshan, is going through a horror run of form as well - he has scored 177 runs in his last nine outings, 83 of those coming in one innings against Australia. A turnaround in his personal fortunes will help his team get back on track.
There's plenty riding on this match for Pakistan. A 2-0 series scoreline will take them ahead of Sri Lanka to fifth in the ICC Test table, and within touching distance of Australia. That's not too bad for a side that plays all its games away from home, in the absence of a bunch of potential first-choice players who are either ignored, banned, or facing jail terms.
Form guide (completed games, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Mahela Jayawardene seldom lets a full series go without a hundred. So far in the series, Ajmal has out-thought him twice, while the seamers have got him nicking into the cordon twice. Jayawardene is too good to repeat such errors, and Pakistan should be on high alert when he walks out to bat in the decider.
Pakistan (likely): 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Taufeeq Umar, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Asad Shafiq, 7 Adnan Akmal (wk), 8 Umar Gul, 9 Abdur Rehman, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Junaid Khan
Sri Lanka are mulling the possibility of benching Lahiru Thirimanne and promoting Dilshan back to the opener's slot. Seamer Kosala Kulasekara's name is also doing the rounds, as Sri Lanka seek to make their attack more incisive.
Sri Lanka (likely): 1 Tharanga Paranavitana, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan (capt), 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Kaushal Silva (wk), 7 and 8 Two of Dhammika Prasad / Suraj Randiv / Kosala Kulasekara, 9 Rangana Herath, 10 Chanaka Welegedera, 11 Suranga Lakmal
Pitch and conditions
Dilshan noted the presence of a grassy cover on the strip, but it remains to be seen if the grass makes it to the match morning. Misbah expected it to be a "normal Sharjah pitch" that will assist the batsmen.
Stats & Trivia
"Sri Lanka are a very good side and they are fighters so we are ready for it but our focus is to do the basics well and play like we have done in the last year and a half."
Misbah-ul-Haq backs his side to maintain their intensity and close the door on Sri Lanka
A look at some of cricket's most memorable strokes - and their makers