Pakistan bet on improved Sarfraz
Pakistan have struggled to find a wicketkeeper who can consistently contribute with the bat since Kamran Akmal was discarded. But they seem to be closer to filling that gap with Sarfraz Ahmed improving his batting returns in recent matches. On the second day of the Galle Test, he scored a crucial 55 to make sure Pakistan didn't waste the foundation they were given on the first day.
Pakistan's wicketkeepers have averaged 22.64 over the past five years, which is worse than all other Test nations except Zimbabwe (22.31). There has been no Test century since Kamran's in Karachi in 2009 and since then their highest is 88 by the now-discarded Zulqarnain Haider in 2010. Pakistan have tried four wicketkeepers - Haider, Adnan Akmal, Mohammad Salman and Sarfaraz - in the last four years but have hardly given any of them a lengthy run in the side.
Adnan has played 21 Test matches under constant judgment and never really certain of holding his place for an extended spell. He was fine behind the stumps and handy with the bat but could not score big. He was an automatic selection until last year but had been ruled out due to a fractured finger in Abu Dhabi this January, allowing Sarfaraz to make a comeback.
Sarfaraz grabbed the chance with an enterprising 48 against Sri Lanka in Sharjah that helped Pakistan pull off a famous and unlikely victory. That was one of the reasons the selectors persisted with him even when Adnan regained fitness and was awaiting a recall. Pakistan are known for their inconsistency but over the last year they have tended to be stable with their selections, giving youngsters ample time to prove themselves.
Sarfaraz has earned their faith by getting past his 2010 rut. He was the captain of the Pakistan side that won the Under-19 World Cup in 2006 but his confidence had been shattered in 2009 on the winless tour of Australia. He lost his way, went back through the domestic circuit to try regaining form but it wasn't until Moin Khan's stern words of encouragement before the Sharjah Test did he turn a corner.
His innings at Galle was typically aggressive and underlined how he has become more assured at Test level. He likes to go for his shots, and showed that when he scored his first runs - a sweep that was reminiscent of Moin.
Pakistan haven't played Tests in seven months, and the captain Misbah-ul-Haq had hinted that rustiness among the players could prove a problem in Galle. There was no such trouble for Sarfaraz as he cashed in on the chance provided by Adnan's injury. He shared a 66-run sixth-wicket stand with Younis Khan and went on to make 55 off 116 balls before finding the fielder at silly mid-on.
"When a junior player like Sarfraz comes and plays (like this) it is always good for the team," Younis said. "It brings life into the team when a junior comes and performs. Teams need young blood and I think Sarfraz is improving every day and it is good for the team."
Sarfaraz emerged from Karachi's famous cricketing circuit, growing up in the shadow of former captain and wicketkeeper Rashid Latif. He is a product of the Rashid Latif cricket academy, one of the main nurseries in the metropolitan city.
In recent years Pakistan have been striving to find a wicketkeeper who is also a flamboyant batsman, and Sarfaraz has started to show he can be a long-term answer.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson