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Pakistan aim to step-up against Sri Lanka in home conditions
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Pakistan aim to step-up against Sri Lanka in home conditions

It is a historic occasion for Pakistanis to witness the return of Test cricket after 10-year-wait but for the players from both sides, the focus will remain on the all-important ICC Test Championship.

Pakistan didn't start their championship campaign well and they will be looking to make a strong comeback against a familiar opponent who plays well in subcontinent conditions.

The recent record will encourage the islanders as they won the last Test series in UAE by 2-0 and breached the back then fortress of Pakistan team. That was one of the first series of Sarfaraz Ahmed as skipper and it took place right after Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan's retirement and since then Pakistan have struggled in the longer format.

Dimuth Karunaratne was on an incredible run-spree in that tour and struck a marathon innings of 196 in the second Test and he is now the captain of Sri Lanka. Mohammad Amir managed just one wicket in the first innings and didn't bowl in the second. Wahab Riaz got the reverse swing going and took four wickets after a low-key performance in the first innings of the match where he managed only one scalp.

Dinesh Chandimal, the skipper in the last Test series between the two countries, scored a valiant 155 and remained unbeaten in the first Test and there were handy contributions from the lower-middle order throughout that series.

Sri Lanka's bowling has suffered a blow as leader of the pace arsenal, Suranga Lakmal, is ruled out of the tour due to Dengue fever. However, they still possess a good blend of pacers in the shape of Lahiru Kumara and Vishwa Fernando to get the job done.

The touring party has never been short of mystery spinners and for this tour, they have got Lakshan Sandakan and Dilruwan Perera in the ranks; the latter bagged 12 wickets in the last series that included a watch winning fifer in the second Test in Dubai.

Pakistan, on the other hand, are back in the comfort of their home after getting outclassed by Australia — who waltzed to a convincing 2-0 sweep.

Fawad and Usman return to the fold

There have been two changes in the Pakistan side; Usman Shinwari has replaced Musa Khan and Iftikhar Ahmed makes way for Fawad Alam — who has been waiting on the fringes for an eternity.

For years, the ready asset was toiling hard in the domestic arena and got neglected by previous selection committees with reasons known best to them. Meanwhile, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam and many other players in the last decade were given precedence over experienced Fawad Alam who was knocking on the selectors' door while new faces got an extended run to settle in the longer format.

The southpaw has amassed 12,222 runs in first-class cricket at an average of 56.84, with 34 centuries and 60 fifties to his name. His resolve has grown over the years and the doughty batsman from Karachi has remained in good spirits ever since he was dropped from the Test side.

Pakistan's bowling will remain under the scanner in this series after a dismal performance down under. With dwindling fast bowling resources, there aren't many top-quality quick bowlers to replace the current pace battery. 

It makes the job of Waqar Younis all the more important who has got a massive task to get the best out of the young bowling attack if Pakistan is serious about making headways in the Test championship.

Concerns over Yasir's primary duties

Yasir Shah took everyone by surprise with a rearguard century against Australia in his secondary duties but he was found wanting with the ball and the yardstick for a quality leg-spinner is to find ways of dismissing batsmen outside Asia which he wasn't able to do on a frequent basis. 

The leggie isn't a great exponent of the wrong un' and flipper which narrows his options but he will find better conditions in Rawalpindi and Karachi to make inroads.

Mickey Arthur just got appointed as Sri Lanka's new head coach and barely got time to settle in. He will make sure he shares his invaluable insights with the players and he must have a lot to tell them after spending three years with Pakistan team. Sri Lanka will have an advantage of having Arthur's chalked out individual plans against each member of Pakistan team.

Azhar Ali said his team's pride has been hurt after the demoralising defeat against Australia but come to think of it, it has more to do with the groundwork before the series and adequate preparations because such statements might spur the side into action but you can't win against top sides by bringing knives to a gunfight.

Pakistan's newly-appointed Test captain didn't inspire the team with his batting and looked rusty after almost eight months international cricket break and that showed in his game. The forthcoming Tests presents a good opportunity for him to find his groove.

The batting for the hosts will hinge on the middle order, led by Babar Azam, who has quickly grown in stature in Test cricket and is expected to continue along his merry. 

Meanwhile, Shan Masood is dogged against the new ball and so Pakistan batsmen should feel comfortable on flat wickets and the onus will be on the bowlers to make the difference.

Pakistan Squad

Azhar Ali (c), Abid Ali, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Fawad Alam, Haris Sohail, Imam-ul-Haq, Imran Khan, Kashif Bhatti, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Rizwan, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Afridi, Shan Masood, Yasir Shah, Usman Shinwari.

Sri Lanka Squad

Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Oshada Fernando, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Kusal Janith Perera, Lahiru Thirimanne, Dhananjaya de Silva, Niroshan Dickwella, Dilruwan Perera, Lasith Embuldeniya, Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara, Vishwa Fernando, Kasun Rajitha, Lakshan Sandakan