To Sri Lanka with vengeance

June 14, 2015

This will be the biggest challenge for Misbah. It is going to be his last Test series in Sri Lanka, if one is to go by his own announcement that he won’t be playing Test cricket as well after 2015

To Sri Lanka with vengeance

It is the place where they last lost a Test series. But this time Pakistan seem better prepared when they step on to the field at Galle on Wednesday, even as some feel that selection could have been a little better.

There is a feeling that Fawad Alam should have been there considering he scored consistently in the four-day ‘Tests’ against Sri Lanka ‘A’ when he was there a few weeks back.

This was after three successive fifties in the limited overs games. The question is who would he have replaced in the middle order? Perhaps it was a choice between him and Haris Sohail but it has to be said that Haris has got runs every time he has gone out to bat in the ODIs since the time he came into the side against New Zealand last December.

His other contention would have been against Shan Masood as the third opener. After all, his debut hundred came as an opener against Sri Lanka on their home ground. And it was a big hundred, over 160. But then Shan got a big hundred on the same ‘A’ tour a few weeks back and that was as an opener. That killed off Fawad’s chance to get a nod for the Test team. And he didn’t do himself any favour with three successive bad performances in Bangladesh in April.

Besides, Ahmed Shahzad has got back into the good books of PCB, if not that of coach Waqar Younis’s. He performed admirably in Tests in the last quarter of last year and with Hafeez is likely to see through the three Tests.

All told, they have a settled top and middle order and a penetrative bowling line up, both of which are buoyed up since September last year after fabulous performances against Australia and New Zealand in the five-day format.

That it came within a few weeks of their 2-0 whitewash against Sri Lanka last summer shows that the team had resilience and the four that starred in that resurgence -- Younis Khan, Misbah ul Haq, Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, not to mention Sarfraz Ahmed -- are all present and in matchless form still.

It were they who salvaged Pakistan’s reputation in Bangladesh after they were quite humiliated by Bangladesh in the limited overs games. And it is they whom Pakistan are counting on.

Nevertheless there is some concern. Despite their presence, Sri Lanka got them out twice in both Tests; in the first, almost from a drawing position. Ironically it was Sarfraz Ahmed who consistently got them out of trouble, though in the end could not save them from defeat. I say ironically because he had been sent against most advice and the influencers were keen on Adnan Akmal.

But this time Sarfraz carries an extra burden on himself. His wicket-keeping against spinners is showing signs of wear and tear. He was dropped in both Bangladesh and at home against Zimbabwe due to this.

This time Pakistan will be relying heavily on their spin duo of Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah as Wahab is tiring one can see while Junaid Khan is still struggling post rehabilitation. In fact there is quite a possibility that Pakistan play Imran Khan instead of him. Ehsan Adil would be too raw but then has nip.

However, I feel the real test for the tourists would be concerning their fitness. It can get terribly muggy on the island as the humidity can sap the fittest. The last time the players were tested only old warhorses Misbah and Younis came through and they won’t be bowling, which is where fitness is most a priority.

Even in the late afternoon and evening in the home series against Zimbabwe one could see that the Pakistani bowlers were exhausted fairly quickly. If they are to bowl around noon it will be excruciating for those who don’t have a high fitness level. No amounts of salt will be able to substitute for the long hours that the Pakistani bowlers will be putting in all these months.

And the Sri Lankans will be well aware of that. Not only are they fitter but these are conditions they have grown up in.

This will be the biggest challenge for Misbah. It is going to be his last Test series in Sri Lanka, if one is to go by his own announcement that he won’t be playing Test cricket as well after 2015. He will want to win this series to have better memories than those from last summer. He has the advantage of a third Test this time. On tough tours Pakistan normally come into their own by the third Test when they have fully acclimatised to the conditions. Let’s hope it is the third time lucky for Misbah.

To Sri Lanka with vengeance