Pakistan look to regain Test groove
Misbah-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain, has admitted his team is rusty having played no Test cricket in the last six months, but said the players will shake off that rust over the course of their ongoing training camp ahead of their tour of Sri Lanka next month.
Pakistan have been undergoing a conditioning camp for the last nine days under an entirely new coaching staff headed by Waqar Younis, with the batting and fielding departments taken care of by Grant Flower and Grant Luden respectively.
"There is some rustiness and this is why we are playing as many as practice matches here to find some flow," Misbah said. "We are trying to get maximum batting practice and have been trying to tune ourselves for the last three days and simulate match scenarios. After all we are professional and we have to deal with whatever is coming our way so we have to manage and we will manage and will be ready by the time the series starts."
Pakistan last played a Test in Sharjah in January against Sri Lanka and at the time faced a nine-month drought but the PCB managed to strike a quick deal with SLC on the sidelines of the ICC meeting in Dubai in April and arrange the upcoming series. Pakistan and Sri Lanka have faced each other in five different series over the last five years - twice in Sri Lanka, twice in the UAE and once, in 2009, in Pakistan.
Since beating England in the UAE in 2012, Pakistan haven't won a single Test series. Misbah cited the 3-0 series defeat in South Africa last year as a setback that the team found hard to shake off. "When we went to South Africa [we] got under pressure after losing there but things have improved a lot so far," he said. "We have started to win matches and that is very important though we are yet to win a series. But there is also a reality that we are improving - our batting is looking good. We will try to repeat the same [last test in Sharjah] performance."
The first Test of the Sri Lanka tour starts on August 6 in Galle. Sri Lanka lost their last Test at the venue, against South Africa, but Misbah guarded against playing up Pakistan's hopes. "Sri Lanka mostly plays its first Test at Galle, it's their hunting ground, first Test is always important and our effort will be to remain focused and get prepared ourselves. The conditions suit us, it's a good opportunity for us, and there is a chance of result there. They [Sri Lanka] lost there against South Africa so they will be under pressure too and there is a possibility of them bouncing back hard."
Pakistan have recalled Umar Akmal after nearly three years out of the Test team, with Asad Shafiq also retained in the squad. These two could compete for one middle-order slot leaving the captain a tough decision to choose between them. "There's no confusion, whatever the decision is it's the selectors' decision. Umar Akmal has been playing well in one-day cricket and has ample experience under his belt. So such in-form players are good can be used (straightaway) because they are not new and they have no pressure on them. Asad Shafiq is a promising player. He has given good performances in Tests and both are the future for us."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson