Pakistan will be kick starting their campaign in Test cricket with a new-looked side after they last featured in a Test match four months back.
Even though they won their last Test series against West Indies in the Caribbean, they didn’t enjoy a lot of success on the tours of New Zealand and Australia. Their batting looked strong with the presence of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq but now, after their retirements, it’ll be interesting to see how the newcomers adapt to the challenges of Test cricket and make a statement at this level.
Sri Lanka haven’t had a good run in Test cricket either as they were whitewashed by India at their home soil. Their bowling failed to challenge the Indian batting and their batsmen struggled to spend time at the crease and put up big scores.
Should be an interesting contest since Pakistan are now in the post-MisYou era and this brings in some inexperience in their middle order. After relishing his time as a captain of the limited overs formats, Sarfraz Ahmed will be leading the Test team for the first time which definitely brings in different challenges as compared to the other formats.
Azhar Ali is likely to get back to No. 3 spot which implies that Shan Masood and Sami Aslam will be opening the batting for Pakistan. Both opening batters will be under a bit of pressure as Shan Masood didn’t get a big score on the tour of West Indies and Sami Aslam is making a comeback into the Test side.
Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq hold the key in this new-looked batting line-up as both batsmen have been a part of Pakistan’s test team for almost seven years now and carry plenty of experience. Pakistan's bowling is a threat with the presence of Yasir Shah in the side. He has a stellar record in the UAE and knows these conditions extremely well.
Sri Lankan batting looks at more ease when Angelo Mathews is around but now, in his absence from the first Test, the likes of Kaushal Silva, Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne have to do the hard yards in order to put up some decent totals.
Meanwhile, Rangana Herath is the most experienced player (from both teams) and he is someone who’ll test out the inexperienced batsmen in the Pakistan line-up with all the tricks in his bag.
Azhar Ali has enjoyed a lot success in the last year or so as he scored a triple-century last year and a double-century against Australia earlier. He is the one with most number of Test matches under his belt in this Pakistan side and knows a lot about the surfaces in this part of the world. He leaves the ball exceptionally well, possesses a stoic defence and has the right temperament to play a long innings. Earlier on in his innings, he might fall across his stumps a little bit so the odd nip-backer might work in Sri Lanka’s favor.
Yasir Shah will be the bowler most discussed in Sri Lankan team meetings as he has been instrumental in Pakistan’s success at the UAE. Yasir was declared man of the series in the Caribbean, picking 25 wickets at a stellar 21.96. Against the right handed batsmen, his straighter ball becomes highly effective when his leg-breaks start to turn big and that’s where batsmen are likely to fall in his trap.
Sri Lankan batsmen struggled in their recent homes series against India but Dimuth Karunaratne has been scoring runs at the top of the order for Sri Lanka. He is someone who can provide the much needed stability to this line-up. Pakistan pacers should look to hold the ball outside off-stump to nick him off or get it to nip back and smash his front pad.
Rangana Herath has 83 Tests under his belt and given the absence of the two outstanding players of spin in Misbah and Younis – he can provide a bit of sniff to his team. He has a very effective arm ball which keeps the batsmen to whether play for the straighter one or for the turn.