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The Preview by Abhishek Purohit
June 29, 2012
Match factsJune 30-July 4, Colombo
A team that has not won any of its previous eight Test series, following the retirement of its greatest bowler, against a team that has been unbeaten in its previous seven. No contest? Recent history suggested so but current form prevailed in the first Test. Like they had in the ODIs, Pakistan's batsmen proved brittle again, against Nuwan Kulasekara and Rangana Herath, and against umpires Steve Davis and Ian Gould. Would Pakistan have imploded had Sri Lanka's top-order batsmen not been reprieved by the umpires in the first innings?
What we do know is that Pakistan missed their captain Misbah-ul-Haq, who was banned from the Galle Test because of an over-rate offence during the fifth ODI. Going into the first Test of an away series - already without a warm-up game - without your captain, can be disastrous. When that captain is Misbah, and when that side is Pakistan, the absence seems magnified.
Not only have Pakistan won five, drawn two and lost zero series under Misbah, but he has also averaged 64.72 with the bat during that period. Reviled for his poor strike-rate, Misbah possesses what the thrill-a-minute dashers don't - calmness. During Sri Lanka's second innings in Galle, when another umpiring error denied Pakistan the wicket of Prasanna Jayawardene, Misbah's reaction in the dressing room was telling. He put his index finger up in a mock 'out' signal and smiled broadly, managing to hide all the disappointment and anger within.
Like a general who knows what makes his troops tick, Misbah goads Pakistan in the right direction, and keeps potential irritants at bay. He has squeezed consistency out of unpredictability. Such is his lot, though, that he gets brickbats from fans for taking the thrills of volatility away. Volatility was on display in Galle, and led to Pakistan's heaviest defeat to Sri Lanka in terms of runs.
The new ball was Pakistan's problem in Galle, while bowling and batting. Their quicks could not get it to do much, and their batsmen could not survive when Kulasekara got it to move. There is much quality in both spin attacks, and both dominated in Galle.
Sri Lanka did what winning sides usually do in the subcontinent, they batted big in the first innings, struck early with the new ball, and let the spinners take over. They will look to repeat the dose in Colombo.
Watch out for...
Younis Khan batted 304 deliveries in the first Test. Pakistan collectively lasted 327 deliveries in the first innings there. He was dropped for the final ODI, but showed in Galle why he is easily Pakistan's most important Test batsman. In a match dominated by spinners, Younis hardly looked like getting out to them, playing straight with bat firmly in front of pad and sweeping often. He fell to the umpires in the first innings and to the second new ball in the second.
Much has been said about Nuwan Kulasekara's Test record against Pakistan, and it is worth repeating. In five Tests against them, he has taken 25 wickets at 16.40. His record against other teams - two wickets at 121.50 against India, three wickets at 50.00 against New Zealand and no wickets in two Tests against England. It is the swing and seam movement; can Pakistan find a way to deal with it?
Pitch and conditions
The pitch at the Sinhalese Sports Club Ground is expected to be good for batting. That is like saying rain is expected during Wimbledon. Almost every third game at the ground has been drawn. Consider the previous two games played here. Last year, Australia made 316 and 488. Sri Lanka made 473. In 2010, Sri Lanka declared their first innings on 642 for 4 only to watch India pile on 707. If Pakistan crumble at the SSC, even Misbah might not be able to hide his anger.
The weather has been warm and humid. There was a brief shower yesterday, and scattered thunderstorms are forecast on all five days of the Test.
Sri Lanka's only headache is the choice of the new-ball partner for Kulasekara. Nuwan Pradeep was quick and sharp in Galle but is prone to breakdowns. The problem is that the possible replacement, Dilhara Fernando, is more prone to them. Will they go for the much slower allrounder, Thisara Perera, instead?
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 Nuwan Pradeep/Dilhara Fernando.
Misbah will return for Pakistan, meaning that Mohammad Ayub, who did not do badly at all in his debut Test in Galle, is most likely to sit out. Junaid Khan looked flat on his comeback from injury in the first innings in Galle before responding with an energetic burst in the second. Will Pakistan go with either of Aizaz Cheema or Mohammad Sami in place of Junaid?
Pakistan (probable) 1 Taufeeq Umar, 2 Mohammad Hafeez, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Asad Shafiq, 7 Adnan Akmal (wk), 8 Abdur Rehman, 9 Saeed Ajmal, 10 Umar Gul, 11 Junaid Khan/Aizaz Cheema/Mohammad Sami
Stats and trivia
"We let them score nearly 500 and that put pressure on us. It's not just our batting, but we need to improve our bowling as well."
Misbah-ul-Haq says Pakistan's batsmen were not the only ones at fault in Galle
"We are trying to develop a bowling attack that will hunt in a pack. We don't yet have the experience of a Murali or a Vaas."
Mahela Jayawardene asks for more patience with Sri Lanka's bowlers
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Abhishek Purohit
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala