Pakistan aim to optimise talent pool
Match factsAugust 6-10, 2014
Start time 1000 local (0430 GMT)
Sri Lanka-Pakistan cricket is vaguely akin to a backyard tussle between two brothers rigged by their parents to keep peace in the family. The older wins one, the younger takes the next and so it has been for 10 of their past 14 series. Their latest bout was squared in a twilit Sharjah in astonishing circumstances, but in the six months since, little brother has become a world champion, surprised England on their turf, and was surprised by South Africa on home turf. The elder one, though, has been grounded.
Misbah-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain, insisted that his team had bucked the rust that had gathered without top-level cricket. The squad had simulated match conditions during an extensive camp in Karachi under Waqar Younis, who begins his second stint as head coach in Galle.
Pakistan want to end an eight-year drought without a Test win in Sri Lanka and Waqar's return and his familiarity with the younger players might assist in controlling their output better. Opener Khurram Manzoor bagged a pair after his 146 in Abu Dhabi. Left-arm seamer Rahat Ali accounted for only two wickets against Sri Lanka in the UAE after snagging a second five-wicket haul in Zimbabwe. Azhar Ali carried eight innings with scores of less than 20 before spearheading the Sharjah coup.
In addition to plumbing the best out of themselves, Pakistan will have to mute Sri Lanka's first and usually reliable line of defence - Mahela Jayawardene, in his penultimate Test and Kumar Sangakkara, whose recent form - 938 runs in 10 innings - does not agree with the law of averages. Galle has dressed up for Jayawardene's farewell and the retiring batsman will hope he can mimic billboards of his shots skirting into the gap and off to the fence. Sri Lanka's tireless spin attack would have been grateful for the break - Rangana Herath busted his back for 172 overs against South Africa, Dilruwan Perera skipped in for 158.3 - but it doesn't take much for their stranglehold to set in.
Form guide(last five matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka DLWDD
In the spotlight
Shaminda Eranga fronted up to an angry South African attack with a torn webbing at Galle and was lost for the next Test. He has been declared fully fit by his captain and is expected to shoulder Sri Lanka's seam threat without Suranga Lakmal. The new-ball pair had been in the kind of sync ballroom dancers would envy, but there is depth in the form of a rejuvenated Dhammika Prasad and Nuwan Pradeep.
Pakistan were 85 for 5 with Shane Bond dismissing a two-year hiatus from Tests and conjured 150kph thunderbolts at will. A 19-year old Umar Akmal forgot it was his debut, that it was the toughest form of cricket and pummeled a century that heralded him as the next big thing. Then 2009 became 2010 and Akmal faded badly. He was labelled irresponsible, he got into off-field incidents and his keeping standards inspired great frustration. He was cut-off from Tests for three years, but with Pakistan needing adventure, he has got another chance.
Lahiru Thirimanne might still remember Dale Steyn's sledge turned premonition of not seeing the batsman in Colombo after twin failures in Galle. This time though Kithuruwan Vithanage seems set to claim his spot in the XI. Sri Lanka's management has had to channel a monk's patience in building for the future, but as they showed with Dinesh Chandimal's reassignment to the A team, tough love is never far off.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Upul Tharanga, 2 Kaushal Silva, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Angelo Mathews (capt), 6 Kithuruwan Vithanage, 7 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 8 Dilruwan Perera, 9 Nuwan Pradeep/ Dhammika Prasad, 10 Rangana Herath, 11 Shaminda Eranga
Only two members of the Pakistan squad can draw inspiration from recent competitive experience. Saeed Ajmal has been a talisman for Worcestershire in the 2014 English county season - 63 wickets in nine first-class matches - to push them to top the second-division points table. Junaid Khan, having seemed worn towards the end of the last international season, has been just as instrumental in Lancashire heading the NatWest t20 Blast. Rebooting to Test cricket would be a priority for them and the entire squad.
Pakistan (probabale): 1 Khurram Manzoor, 2 Ahmed Shehzad, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Umar Akmal/ Asad Shafiq, 7 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 8 Abdur Rehman, 9 Mohammad Talha/ Wahab Riaz, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Junaid Khan
Pitch and conditions
Since 2000, Sri Lanka have generally preferred to welcome their opposition at Galle, where they have cultivated 11 wins in 20 Tests. Both teams' relentless spin attacks will find little to fault the surface, while the dryness would aid seamers searching for reverse swing. However, the inter-monsoon rain is expected to play party pooper. It has become regular over the past few days and the Galle track and outfield has looked less abrasive than when South Africa visited.
Stats and trivia
- Mahela Jayawardene's average of 32.16 against Pakistan is his lowest against all Test-playing nations
- Pakistan, who had floated to third place in the ICC rankings despite not playing any cricket since January, will drop to sixth if they lose the series
"Players like Mahela [Jayawardene] rarely come around in any country. The support he has given me until now is something I very much appreciate."
Angelo Mathews pays tribute to his senior's 17-year career
"We tried our level best to get ready for this series, we had a good training camp in Karachi before we came here. Everybody is ready for the series."
Misbah-ul-Haq and Pakistan are raring to go.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.