'We have an answer for Herath this time' - Misbah
Pakistan were undone by Rangana Herath last year when the left-arm spinner took 23 wickets in only two Tests, as the visitors crumbled to lose both the matches. Statistically, Pakistan are the second team, among the top eight teams, with the worst batting average against left-arm spinners in the last ten years. Their captain Misbah-ul-Haq said his side won't capitulate against Herath this time.
"We have an answer for Herath this time as everybody is working hard on how to defend him," Misbah said. "In the past we really played him well except in the last series in Sri Lanka…sometimes bowler takes the edge, or sometimes batsman. But we are looking on a plan on how to handle him and how we should apply ourselves against him. We only struggled because he got a good hold of the conditions and it's important for us to play him well to get a better result. The more we play him well, more we have a chance to do better against them."
Pakistan last won a series in Sri Lanka in 2006 and since then haven't won a single Test either, with five losses and three draws. "It's always tough for any team to win here as the spin is the only difference," Misbah said. "Earlier they had [Muttiah] Muralitharan, their leading wicket-taker, who did wonders for them and now Herath. So the spin bowling is the main reason we have been struggling. It's very important for us to deal [well] with spin on this tour to make the best result. Taking 20 wickets here is also one concern for us and we are working in this area to do something different this time."
Last year Pakistan scored 451 in the first innings in Galle, but Herath conjured six wickets on the fifth day that swung the game away from the visitors. That was the 12th defeat for any team that had posted 450 or more batting first in a Test, as Pakistan tried to block their way, only to lose nine wickets by the last session to set Sri Lanka a soft target of 99.
"Last time we played very well, especially in the first innings and somewhere in the middle we thought the game was over but it was a big mistake to think that way," Misbah recalled. "It was a message for us not to lose concentration as in Test cricket one good innings can change everything and if you really want to win against Sri Lanka, you can't afford to give many chances to them and just try to be there all the time."
Pakistan are without the services of their ace spinner Saeed Ajmal. With him being dropped, the burden slides to the relatively inexperienced legspinner Yasir Shah and left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar. Both will bowl against an opponent that is good in playing spin, though the captain is optimistic about getting the best out of the spinners.
"Number [of matches or wickets] might not be good but whatever they have played so far they have done well," Misbah said about Shah and Babar. "Of course this time they are going to play against an opponent who is good in playing spin and this is going to be a test for them as well. But this is again an opportunity for them to get them established and I am hopeful the way they are bowling at the moment they are definitely going to do well. Our ultimate goal is to win and improve our performances and I have best players with me to achieve the target."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson