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The Preview by Kanishkaa Balachandran
June 21, 2012
Match factsJune 22-26, Galle
Big PictureCertain pre-series predictions have come to nothing at the conclusion of the ODIs. Recent form suggested that Pakistan began the one-dayers with an upper hand before the first ball was bowled, but in the course of two weeks, the balance shifted quite comprehensively. As a result, the Test series begins with an air of caution for Pakistan, despite their form in Tests being reassuring. They'll do well to remember that they are taking guard in a format that has rewarded them for their doggedness and consistency. Since the tour of England in 2010, they haven't conceded a series in their next seven, that run including a 3-0 whitewash of the No.1 ranked England in February this year.
Sri Lanka have failed to win a Test series since Muttiah Muralitharan's retirement in 2010, casting doubts about their ability to challenge the best, let alone win. Wins against England and South Africa are indicators that they're starting to learn how to win again. A 3-1 ODI series win has given them a kick too, but the question is if they can maintain that dominance in the Tests. That said, the Tests could be quite interesting as both sides have plenty to prove.
While the aim will be to inch up the ICC Test rankings, both teams have an opportunity to establish Asian Test supremacy. That's partly owing to India's sudden freefall from the summit. After two ruthless thrashings away from home, India has slid to No.4, with just a slender lead on Pakistan. Pakistan will need to win comprehensively to go ahead of India. Sri Lanka have a lot of catching up to do to get to either side, but a series win will narrow that gap nevertheless.
Change has been forced on Pakistan, with a new captain standing in for the banned Misbah-ul-Haq. Despite Misbah's lack of form, it's still not ideal for their build-up. Mohammad Hafeez isn't among the runs himself, yet he's been given the responsibility of leading the team. Fortunately, the nucleus hasn't been disturbed. Their spin trio of Saeed Ajmal, Hafeez and Abdur Rehman remains. It will be interesting if Sri Lanka produces turning tracks, as it could be counter-productive for the hosts, who will rely primarily on one spinner. Since January 2010, Galle has been favourable for spinners and seamers, with 71 and 53 wickets respectively. Negating the spinners will be key to Sri Lanka's chances, irrespective of the surface. The weather, and expected rains, will be a factor too.
The DRS is unavailable for the Tests because the Sri Lankan board couldn't secure the funding for it.
Watch out for...Azhar Ali: The only positive for Pakistan from the one-dayers, albeit a surprising one, considering he wasn't a regular in Pakistan's one-day plans. With the seniors misfiring, he took on more responsibility than expected. Unfortunately, due to lack of adequate support, he wasn't able to close out games. He puts a price on his wicket, and Sri Lanka will be wary of that.
Rangana Herath: Pakistan will have bad memories of facing him in Sri Lanka in 2009. With 15 wickets in three games, Herath was central to Pakistan's bewildering collapses in Galle and Colombo. Herath was rested after the first two ODIs in Pallekele on this tour, keeping in mind his expected workload in the Tests. Expect plenty of overs from him.
Pitch and conditionsThe weather in Galle has been hot and humid with no rain in the immediate build-up to the game. Both captains didn't make any decisive comments about the pitch. Mahela Jayawardene said it looked a 'true' surface.
Team newsNo apparent hints about the playing XIs either. Misbah's absence leaves a slot open in the middle order. If Pakistan choose not to risk a debutant when they're already struggling with the bat, then Faisal Iqbal could be recalled.
Pakistan (probable) 1 Taufeeq Umar, 2 Mohammad Hafeez (capt), 3 Younis Khan, 4 Azhar Ali, 5 Faisal Iqbal, 6 Asad Shafiq, 7 Adnan Akmal (wk), 8 Abdur Rehman, 9 Saeed Ajmal, 10 Umar Gul, 11 Aizaz Cheema
Sri Lanka will have to decide if they want to play two seam-bowling allrounders, at the expense of a specialist seamer. If they decide against it, then Thisara Perera may have to sit out, since Nuwan Kulasekara has been recalled.
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Tharanga Paranavitana, 3 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 4 Kumar Sangakkara, 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Suraj Randiv, 10 Rangana Herath, 11 Chanaka Welegedera
Stats and trivia
Quotes"To be honest, we're not thinking of that otherwise it will put unnecessary pressure on us. We'd like to take it one game at a time."
"We need to give a lot of confidence to Suraj Randiv as he's a top-class bowler, and hopefully this will be a breakthrough series for him."
Mahela Jayawardene on getting Rangana Herath support in the spin department
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Kanishkaa Balachandran
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Both teams face contrasting opponents in their next Test series. While West Indies will be tested against stronger teams, Bangladesh have it easier but without much to gain