Match Tied (Royal Challengers Bangalore win one-over eliminator)
Azhar Ali admitted the need for Pakistan to improve their standards as they enter the historic Test match in Rawalpindi at the back of six successive losses in the format.
Addressing a press conference on the eve of the first game, the Pakistan skipper hoped the end of a decade-long drought of Test cricket in the country would boost the confidence of the players, who will be vying to make the occasion more memorable with a victory.
While thanking the Sri Lankan team for making the trip to Pakistan, Azhar added his team would not commit the grave error of taking their opponents lightly.
“It is a happy moment for all of us to play a Test match in Pakistan but it is important for us to get on the winning track.”
“You can never underestimate Sri Lanka. They have always been a tough opponent, whether they play home or away."
"We will have to play disciplined cricket in order to defeat them. We lacked the requisite levels of discipline in the last series and we hope to improve this facet of the game.
"You cannot win a Test match in just one session but you can surely lose it. If you remain disciplined, then you will win every session," Azhar said.
Reflecting on the Australia series debacle that ended in back-to-back innings defeats for Pakistan, the 34-year-old conceded his side had abysmally faltered in the face of the stern test.
“Though Australia’s conditions are quite better now but unfortunately, we couldn’t perform up to the expectations. It’s very disappointing and unacceptable given the manner in which we lost to Australia."
"This is now a very good opportunity that we are playing in home conditions and hopefully we will have the home advantage.
"I believe our squad has a lot of potential and I think if we implement our plans, we will have better results.”
He also cautioned against adopting an aggressive chop and change policy in the event of heavy losses since this would disrupt the successful completion of the rebuilding phase.
“We haven’t given enough time to the rebuilding process. We quickly run out of patience. Once we lose one or two series, critics start calling for changes in the team."
"I believe the boys have enough potential to learn swiftly and perform in different conditions. You have to come out of your comfort zone in international cricket.”
The Pakistan batting stalwart has himself been plagued by an extended lean run in the format and Azhar acknowledged his failures at the top of the order was putting pressure on the other batsmen.
Since the retirement of veterans Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan in May 2017, Azhar has registered only one century in Test cricket at a time when he was expected to spearhead Pakistan's batting charge.
“It is extremely important for a captain to perform and I realise I am not contributing much to the team. I am trying my level best to revive my form.
"In terms of playing well, I am satisfied but I have not been able to transfer that into games. Sometimes, you need a big score to redeem your confidence and everything returns to normalcy so I am aiming to play a long innings," he said.
Another point of concern for Pakistan is their inexperienced bowling line-up, with their problems burdened by a lackadaisical display from Yasir Shah of late.
Yasir was guilty of leaking runs at a rapid rate against Australia but Azhar feels the leg-spinner will thrive at home.
“We feel like this is the best bowling attack we have in Pakistan. Once we get breakthroughs with the new ball, it will help Yasir Shah get into his groove."
"In Australia, whenever Yasir would come on to bowl, the batsmen were already set. Obviously, it would then become difficult for him to get a wicket as they specifically targeted him.”
The presence of Mickey Arthur in the touring party adds another flavour to Pakistan's rivalry with Sri Lanka.
“Definitely, if someone is with you for even a year, they will know a lot about you. But we’ve seen in cricket, despite knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the players, the batsmen still score runs. Like David Warner did against us recently," Azhar said while shedding light on Arthur's insight about the Pakistan players.
"Good players can cope with this because they know they will be tested on their weaker points. Yes, Mickey has a lot of knowledge about us but we have the ability to counter the challenge posed by the Sri Lankan team.”