Great expectations from A tour for Pakistan, Sri Lanka
Pakistan A's tour to Sri Lanka, which commences in Matara on Sunday, is being looked at by both countries as one that could help fill vacancies created in their senior sides.
Pakistan have been the first country to suffer from the aftermath of the 2015 World Cup following retirements of senior players after suffering a 0-3 ODI series whitewash in Bangladesh. Along with Pakistan, Sri Lanka also had some senior players quitting ODIs after the World Cup. Both sides are going through a period of rebuilding.
For Pakistan, where no Test-playing side has gone after the Sri Lanka team bus was attacked by terrorists in 2009, the resumption of A tours is a windfall. They are due to play three one-day matches and three four-day unofficial Tests against Sri Lanka A.
"In the past it has been the policy of the Pakistan Cricket Board to have A-team tours but suddenly all A tours came to a stop," Col Naushaad Ali, the Pakistan A manager, said. "But now with Sri Lanka taking the initiative it has started again. It's a wonderful idea to have an A series before the senior team arrives in Sri Lanka."
The senior Pakistan side is due to tour Sri Lanka in June for three Tests, five ODIs and two T20Is. Pakistan A, led by Fawad Alam, have seven players with international experience in their squad.
"A-team tours is something that we have been missing for the last four-five years," Mohammad Akram, the Pakistan A coach, said. "We have been going through tough times back home with no international sides coming to us. It's not easy going and playing cricket always in Dubai and Sharjah. We have some good players coming through and there is no better place than Sri Lanka to start A tours again.
"The Test and one-day series is a great opportunity for both boards to test their young new players. Both teams are going through a transition period and the tour affords youngsters a great chance to perform at this level and claim a place in the national side.
"We had a good 10-day camp before we came here and the boys played some good cricket. We have a good mixture of experienced and young cricketers. We know the conditions here are going to be tough and how hard the Sri Lankans play their cricket but we are fully prepared."
Romesh Kaluwitharana, the Sri Lanka A coach, said the tour was very significant as the hosts were beginning a new era.
"After a World Cup there always come new ideas, new thinking and new players. This series will be a good opportunity for the players to showcase their talent and try and fill several openings that will become vacant in the senior side," Kaluwitharana said.
"Ashan Priyanjan (the captain), Kithuruwan Vithanage and Kusal Perera have at some stage played in the senior side. Kusal is a good ODI player but we need to see him scoring consistently. We also want to see whether he could be turned into a good Test player.
"Kithuruwan has been playing only Tests. Why not try him out in ODIs and T20Is? He is such a good cricketer. Those are the things we can really work on during an A series.
"We are playing against a very good side who are also rebuilding and they also want to come back very strong. With this new set of players I am confident that we will give Pakistan a very good run, hopefully win both series and produce a few potential players who can be earmarked to play for the national side in the near future."
Kaluwitharana, who has been the A-team coach for the past five years, said that he has been delivering at least seven-eight players to the national side consistently but this series would be a challenge for him as he has been given a new set of players to work with. "It's a big challenge but I am confident of delivering."
The one-dayers will be played in Matara, Hambantota and Colombo and the unofficial Tests in Colombo, Pallekele and Dambulla.