SL wary of Pakistan's momentum
Sri Lanka batsman Kumar Sangakkara and captain Dinesh Chandimal are wary of Pakistan's form and confidence ahead of the first Twenty20 in Dubai. Pakistan are fresh from limited-overs success in South Africa, where they won the second of the two Twenty20s, and two of the three ODIs. Pakistan also defeated Afghanistan in Sharjah, three days prior to the series-opener against Sri Lanka.
"Pakistan has played two high-quality series both here and in South Africa, so we know it's going to be tough. They know these conditions well," Sangakkara said.
"They have got a very balanced attack. Saeed Ajmal is the best offspinner in the world without a doubt, and you get some very unique fast bowlers with Pakistan as well. Mohammad Irfan is injured for the series, but he's been great for the game of cricket in general. You've also got Junaid Khan and the two new-founds, Bilawal Bhatti and Anwar Ali. They have shown they can step up and perform. We know what we're in for, so it's a case of mentally conditioning ourselves to face what's coming up and win those little challenges."
Chandimal echoed Sangakkara's appraisal of Pakistan's form and said his team had devised specific plans to better defuse the threat of the Pakistan attack. Sri Lanka have not played a practice match in the UAE, but had been playing the early rounds of the domestic List A tournament at home, before the tour.
"They have played some really good cricket in South Africa," Chandimal said. "We aren't underestimating them - they've got a talented side. Last time we came here, we lost the T20 unfortunately. But we've had three practice sessions and everyone is in a good mental space, and we put our heart and soul into it."
Pakistan captain Mohammad Hafeez said the victory against Afghanistan had helped maintain the team's confidence after the South Africa series, but had also served as a reminder on the perils of leaking runs in the field, which had nearly cost them the match.
"We feel like we're carrying the momentum, right from the South Africa series. As a team we feel like we're playing very well. We had a good practice against Afghanistan in the last match as well. Sri Lanka are the No. 1 team in the rankings, so you can't write them off even though one or two players are missing."
Both teams will seek to settle their Twenty20 combinations, as the World Twenty20 approaches, and Sri Lanka's priority in this series will be to discern whether Ramith Rambukwella or Seekkuge Prasanna is the better slow-bowling allrounder for the purpose.
"At the moment Rangana Herath is the No. 1 bowler we have, but we've got to search for some young blood," Chandimal said. "We've only got two days before the World Twenty20, so our team will be based on what happens in the next few T20s, so that's why we need to find a spin-bowling allrounder. It's a good opportunity for everyone who is going to the Twenty20 world cup."
Hafeez said his side would also experiment with promising players. "Over the past few games we've been really getting the combination for the team, and trying some of the new youngsters in the squad. These two matches will also give us a chance to apply a couple of youngsters and try a couple of things."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here