The 2nd test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka is commencing at Peshawar on Sunday. Peshawar is the capital of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) with a common border with Afghanistan. A semi-mountainous area, NWFP is pretty rich in its cultural heritage. In the older days, most of the invaders entered this region through the mountain passes of this area. The inhabitants of this province are brave people who take immense pride in their culture, customs and traditions.
Peshawar has been a regular cricket center since the inception of Pakistan, having produced at least half a dozen national/international level players. Prominent among them are, Maazullah Khan, Farrukh Zaman, Zakir Khan, Fazl-e-Akbar, Shahid Afridi (who holds the world record of scoring the fastest century in one day cricket) and Younis Khan who scored a prolific century on debut in the first test at Rawalpindi.
Arbab Niaz stadium, the venue of this match emerged on the international cricket scene a few years ago. Four test matches have been played on the ground so far. Among the current Pakistan players Inzamam-ul-Haq leads with an average of 76 on this ground. He scored 305 runs in 5 innings, being not out once and getting out in the nervous 90s twice thus missing the honour of scoring the century on this ground. In contrast Saeed Anwar has a century (126) among 208 runs that he scored in 4 innings ending up with an average of 40. Among the bowlers Wasim Akram is at top with 20 wickets in 3 matches followed by Mushtaq Ahmed's 13 wickets including a sensational performance of grabbing 10 wickets in a match (5 in each inning).
There is so far no indication about the nature of the pitch. The Pakistan Cricket Board having decided to play a result oriented series the strip is expected to be identical to the one prepared at Rawalpindi depending, however, on soil and weather conditions.
As for the contest, Sri Lanka's rising stars are looking for more laurels after defeating Pakistan in the first test. The victory has raised their morale and confidence, also enhancing the degree of enthusiasm to achieve further recognition of their strength and fighting spirit.
The team certainly looks to be on the upward march. Except that former captain Arjuna Ranatunga has returned home after suffering a serious thumb injury at Rawalpindi, the Sri Lanka team does not appear to have any problems. It may be recalled that Ranatunga was hit by a rising delivery from speedster Waqar Younis injuring his left thumb. Despite being in pain, he batted resolutely to steer his team to victory.
In the Pakistan camp, the situation is, however, different. It is a squad with some important players ridden with injuries. All rounder Azhar Mahmood, who was a regular member of the team, dislocated a disc and has been flown to England for treatment. Star bowler Wasim Akram, down with a hamstring may not be fit to play. Similar doubts exist about Saqlain Mushtaq, the off spinner. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has established a practice camp at Rawalpindi for the Pakistan team and other young probables, Shoaib Akhtar, Mushtaq Ahmed, Humayun Farhat and Yasir Arafat are the latest additions to the camp.
In the absence of Wasim Akram, the Pakistan team needs the services of a top speedster. Subject to passing the fitness test Shoaib Akhtar remains the ideal choice. He is thus likely to get preference over Mohammad Akram who grabbed 5 wickets in a test in Australia. Of late the spin department has not done remarkably well either. A half fit Saqlain Mushtaq is neither taking wickets nor troubling the batsmen. The onus of ousting the opposing batsmen has fallen on the pace bowlers. The leggy Mushtaq Ahmed who was, at one time, counted as one of the top three leg spinners of the world, is attending the practice camp after regaining fitness. Let us see, if his dream of staging a comeback comes true.
Humayun Farhat, a young wicket-keeper batsman has distinguished himself among the Pakistan juniors by giving outstanding performance in the two trades. He is certainly a future prospect. Moin Khan having been advised knee surgery by the doctor, it is quite likely that Humayun is honoured with the test cap. There is also a lobby pleading for the recall of former wicket keeper Rashid Latif. Since he has been out of the international scene for more than two years except for a recent appearance in a practice match against the visitors, one cannot be sure about his form and fitness. Another young wicket-keeper one is hearing about is Atiq-uz-Zaman who may also be under consideration as a stand in for Moin.
In the Rawalpindi test, the performance of Aamer Sohail and Wajahatullah Wasti was also below par, but making too many changes in the team may not be good. Persistence with the players is vitally important for instilling confidence in their ability to perform well. Frequent changes not only lower the morale of players but also shatter harmony of the team. The Pakistan Cricket Board has recently appointed a new selection committee. The selection of team for the Peshawar test would thus be the litmus test of the selection committee headed by the former wicket-keeper captain Wasim Bari.
The nail-biting finish of the Rawalpindi test indicates that the two teams are closely matched. Despite a collapse in the first inning, the Pakistan team allowed the visitors only a scrape through victory in an evenly poised contest. Since Pakistan has lost the one day series followed by the Rawalpindi test, the Peshawar test carries significant importance. Pakistan's attention is thus rightly focussed on winning this crucial test to level the series, leaving the final result to the third test at Karachi. Pakistan has a very accomplished side, provided its players adopt a more professional attitude towards the game. They need to be more active and agile in the field and most important of all hold their catches!
The news about the pitch having just trickled in indicates that the track will be helpful both to bowlers and the batsmen. It is likely to prove beneficial for the pacers in the initial stages, providing help to spinners later on.
Although its contribution to cricket has been moderate, NWFP is known for providing World Champions in the field of squash. The great Hashim Khan, Azam Khan, Roshan Khan, Jahangir Khan and last of all Jansher Khan have all been the sons of this soil. The people of the province are delighted that another Khan from the province has emerged on the international horizon. After scoring a century in his debut test, young Younis Khan has become a hero overnight. The Peshawarites' are anxiously waiting to watch the youngster in action at the Arbab Niaz Stadium. With a sudden rise in his popularity the cricket fans are seen having stormed the hotel's lobby to have a glimpse of him or to take an autograph. Let us wish the young man further success in his endeavors.