The 1st test against Sri Lanka is at the verge of a start at Rawalpindi which has been a regular match centre since the inception of Pakistan. Till the World Cup 96 staged in India and Pakistan, all matches were played at the Services Club Ground on the Mall which could not cope with the tremendous rise in sports activity any more. A new stadium was thus built in the middle of the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, which is now the major venue of all international matches.

Sri Lanka who has defeated Pakistan in the one day series, are confident that they can repeat the magical performance in the longer version of the game as well.

On the other hand, Pakistan is not only in quest for the restoration of the home advantage that it lost after defeat against Arjuna Ranatunga's Sri Lanka team in 1995-96 but also needs to regain the prestige that it lost in Australia by losing both test as well as one day series.

Pakistan once regarded as invincible on their home turf also lost the home series against South Africa, Australia and minnows Zimbabwe. The Pakistan Cricket Board is thus faced with a twin problem; regaining its lost status in test cricket and finding fresh talent to replace the seniors likely to fade out in the near future.

After a week's camp for the probables, the Selectors have finalized a panel of 18 players from which they propose to choose the teams for the three tests. It comprises of :- Saeed Anwar (Captain), Aamer Sohail, Wajahatullah Wasti, Imran Abbas, Younis Khan, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Faisal Iqbal, Moin Khan, Yousuf Youhana, Saqlain Mushtaq, Abdur Razzaq, Wasim Akram, Mohammad Akram, Naved Ashraf, Irfan Fazil, Waqar Younis, Bazid Khan and Shahid Afridi.

It is a blend of youth and experience. The senior group comprises of the players who regularly represented Pakistan in test matches as well as one day internationals while the younger lot contains the talented youngsters who have either played for Pakistan Under-19, Pakistan A Team or done wonders in domestic cricket.

Among the seniors, Aamer Sohail who once used to be a regular opener is aspiring to regain his position, while Wahahatullah Wasti is the other candidate for the slot. Wasti scored useful 85 runs in a 3-day match against Sri Lanka. He is a young man who holds a place in the galaxy of players having scored a century in each inning of a test match.

While Waqar Younis who has been in and out of the team is sure to be picked up for the XI, Mohammad Akram also stakes the claim after taking 4 wickets for 19 runs for Pakistan Board's XI against the Sri Lankans. Akram also took 5 wickets against Australia at Perth in the test series that Pakistan lost. He was, however, dropped for the Tri-Series. One of the two or both have to be picked up in the absence of Shoaib Akhtar, the latest sensation in fast bowling who is out of the team on account of a groin injury. Azhar Mahmood is also unfit for the series.

The final team will be announced after examination of the pitch. Let us see who are the lucky youngsters winning the coveted Test Cap.

While the exclusion of Ijaz Ahmed from the panel of 18 players indicates a likely end to his cricket career, the cricket fans in Pakistan wonder why Mushtaq Ahmed, who was not long ago considered as one of the three top leg spinner of the world is being ignored. Some doubts were expressed about his physical fitness. I met him the other day, when he told me that he was absolutely physically fit. One wonders, if the art of leg-spin has become an antique?

Skipper Saeed Anwar is suffering from a stiff neck but he is sure to be fit by the time the match starts.

The pitch selected for the match looks result oriented. It is likely to help the pace bowlers at least for the first two days.

Dave Orchard of South Africa and Athar Zaidi from Pakistan are the umpires.