Rusty Pakistan face stern test
Sri Lanka's tour of Pakistan is a welcome return to the Test fold for the host nation, which didn't play a single five-day game in 2008. Though Pakistan have a superior record against their opponents, their lack of match practice, an inexperienced team and Sri Lanka's impressive run since last year mean the hosts will start as underdogs. Moreover, since 2000, there has been little to choose between the two teams against each other, with Pakistan enjoying a slight 5-4 advantage in 11 Tests. Add to that Pakistan's change in leadership, a batting line-up which is largely unfamiliar with Murali and Mendis, and the notable absence of players who had featured prominently in their successes against Sri Lanka since 2000, the visitors have reasons to feel they have a slight edge.
Among the Pakistan batsmen in this squad, Younis Khan, the newly appointed captain, has been the highest run-getter against Sri Lanka, followed by his predecessor, Shoaib Malik. Younis has featured in each of Pakistan's five wins against Sri Lanka in the last nine years, and performed impressively in those games, averaging 69.28, with centuries in Galle in June 2000, and in Karachi in October 2004. Malik has done well too, averaging 66.50 in four Tests (including two losses), with a highest of an unbeaten 148 in a drawn encounter in Colombo (SSC) in March 2006. Kamran Akmal, Faisal Iqbal and Asim Kamal have struggled to get runs against Sri Lanka. Opener Salman Butt hasn't played a Test against the visitors but will go into the series with confidence after having scored an unbeaten 100 and 62 in the first two ODIs at home against them earlier in the year.
|Shahid Afridi (not in the squad for the first Test)||6||341||34.10||3/0|
Sri Lanka will pin their hopes on Kumar Sangakkara, who averages a staggering 82.66 in five Tests against Pakistan. In his very first Test against them in the final of the Asian Test Championship in March 2002 in Lahore, Sangakkara scored 230 to set up an eight-wicket win for his team. He followed that up with two centuries and two fifties in the next eight innings, but some of the other batsmen in the current squad have failed to impress. No other batsman averages over 35 against Pakistan, including Mahela Jayawardene, who's leading Sri Lanka for the last time. Thilan Samaraweera averages 33.44 with two fifties and an important 100 in Faisalabad in October 2004 to help Sri Lanka win by 201 runs, but there have been no other performances of note, barring match-winning contributions by the now retired Sanath Jayasuriya.
However, Sri Lanka's batsmen have form on their side after a fruitful 2008, with both Jayawardene and Samaraweera among the runs. Tillakaratne Dilshan has averaged 60.27 since last year, and opener Malinda Warnapura has proved a good replacement for Jayasuriya, with 572 runs in seven Tests. Sangakkara, though, has had a relatively quiet time since 2008, averaging 37.92.
|Batsman||Runs and Average (v Pakistan)||Runs and Average (Since 2008)|
|Kumar Sangakkara||744 at 82.66||493 at 37.92|
|Thilan Samaraweera||301 at 33.44||678 at 67.80|
|Mahela Jayawardene||656 at 27.33||688 at 57.33|
|Tillakaratne Dilshan||166 at 23.71||663 at 60.27|
|Chaminda Vaas||455 at 19.78||258 at 32.25|
|Farveez Maharoof||64 at 12.80||-|
Like against most teams, Muttiah Muralitharan has been Sri Lanka's highest wicket-taker against Pakistan with 79 at 23.31, followed by Chaminda Vaas, who's taken 46 at 34.47. Twenty-six of Murali's wickets against Pakistan came in Sri Lanka's 2-1 Test series win in 2000, when he averaged 19.84. Though Murali and Mendis proved successful in Tests since 2008, their current form is a slight worry. In their team's 4-1 defeat to India in the recent ODI series at home, the two spinners managed just ten wickets between them at an average of 45. However, they were highly effective in Sri Lanka's ODI series win in Pakistan earlier in the year, taking ten wickets at 14.3.
For Pakistan, the only noteworthy performer with the ball, among those in the squad for the first Test, has been legspinner Danish Kaneria with 23 wickets in four Tests at 25.86, including a ten-wicket haul in his team's six-wicket win in Karachi in November 2004. Among the fast bowlers Umar Gul impressed in the ODI series against Sri Lanka, but the absence of Shoaib Akhtar and Sohail Tanvir - both performed poorly in that series and were dropped for the final ODI - will affect the home team, which has five players in their squad who haven't played a Test.
Pakistan's young team, though, will benefit immensely from the experience of Younis and Malik, both of whom have handled Murali and Vaas well. Younis has batted aggressively against the offspinner, scoring 65 off 67 balls, but has been dismissed twice. Malik has been far more watchful, but has preserved his wicket, taking Murali for 47 off 227 balls. Vaas has proved economical against both batsmen, but has only one wicket to his name. Younis Khan averages 37 against him, but Malik has played him better, scoring 56 off 131 without being dismissed.
|Shahid Afridi (not in the squad for the first Test)||16||22||4.36||2||8|
Pakistan will rely heavily on the services of Kaneria, who has struggled against some of the top Sri Lankan batsmen. Sangakkara has scored 120 runs off him and been dismissed just once, while Samaraweera averages 84 against him. Kaneria has had more success against Dilshan, dismissing him twice for just 11 runs, and holds a mixed record against Jayawardene, conceding 76 runs but getting him out twice.
Siddhartha Talya is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo