A year later, in Galle, Sri Lanka and Pakistan get the chance to assess their progress

a year leater
In the previous year, during Pakistan's tour of Sri Lanka, Prabath Jayasuriya took 17 wickets

The first of two Test matches between Sri Lanka and Pakistan was played in Galle on July 16; the second Test began on July 24. Both 2022 and 2023 are covered by that statement.

It’s odd why this series was planned to exactly imitate Pakistan’s trip to Sri Lanka last year, but it offers the chance to assess each team’s development during the intervening 12-month period. 

Despite having a mixed record over the past year, Sri Lanka enters the match as the clear favorite mostly because of their degree of familiarity with the playing surface; six of the hosts’ last eight Test matches have taken place here, and four of those games have ended in victories for them. 

Sri Lanka, a somewhat experienced Test team that is aware of their best red-ball lineup, went on to push New Zealand away in the only other Test series they played, losing by two wickets in the first game before being defeated by a large margin in the second.

Though in a different format, they sound just as they have in recent times. The humiliation of having to compete in India to earn a spot in the World Cup was more than paid for by Sri Lanka’s tour of everyone there in Zimbabwe, winning all eight games and the trophy to secure their spot in the competition. 

Dimuth Karunaratne, who missed the competition’s championship match due to a hamstring injury, is expected to play again, giving them a boost. 

The presence of probably the world’s best opener in the previous five years gives some much-needed gravitas to a team that includes Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah in the opening position. In his last seven Test innings, he has scored two centuries and four fifty-scores.

They become much more defensive when you consider Sri Lanka’s superior spinning capabilities, which has recently been a source of special worry for Pakistan. As the primary tormentors of Pakistan on the dramatic final day of the series the previous year, Prabath Jayasuriya and Ramesh Mendis ought to be important players. 

Sajid Khan and Nauman Ali, the two they looked to most frequently, struggled to have a comparable impact as Yasir Shah, while Pakistan has had trouble replacing him in an appropriate manner. 

After doing well against England, Abrar Ahmed will receive another chance in this series, but Mohammad Nawaz and Salman Ali Agha are anticipated to handle a substantial portion of the bowling responsibilities should Galle’s surfaces live up to their reputation for being gripping.

But Pakistan’s standing as the underdog results just as much from their own past as it does from whatever Sri Lanka may throw at them. Since their victory at Galle in the comparable match one year ago, which was their lone victory of 2022, they have failed to win a single Test. 

Babar Azam’s team has only won one match out of 10 since the beginning of the year, losing five of the other nine. In Sri Lanka, a weak top order will be tested once more, and wicket keeper Sarfaraz Ahmed, who is still in place, will need to back up his recent strong batting performances with proficiency with the gloves on difficult grounds.

Prabath Jayasuriya has 46 wickets to his name in five Test matches in Galle, including two match ten-wicket hauls and six five-fors. This included taking 17 wickets in two Test matches against Pakistan the previous year, memorably skipping Pakistan out after lunch on the series’ final day to tie it up at 1. 

The sluggish left-armer, a member of Sri Lanka’s elite spinner production line, was awarded Player of the Series and will again serve as a major obstacle for the visitors. The outcome of the series trophy may be significantly influenced by how well they have adjusted to him.

Given all the baggage Galle has at this time of year for him, you shouldn’t look past Shaheen Afridi for Pakistan. All eyes will be on his pace, rhythm, and capacity to maintain five days of a format he has taken a significant absence from when he plays his first Test since suffering a severe injury in the equivalent Test last year. 

The surface is more likely to favor spin, so if Afridi keeps his bowling speed—about which he recently expressed doubt—could be a sign of things to come for him with the red ball. Babar’s management of Shaheen’s workload will be closely watched because Pakistan will probably only deploy two fast bowlers, and the captain of Pakistan has in the past had trouble with in-game management.

If Karunaratne is available, he will serve as captain and the team’s first player, with Nishan Madushka likely to beat Pathum Nissanka to the position. Dilshan Madushanka, a left-arm fast bowler, is in position to make his Test debut, and Sri Lanka is spoiled for options in the spin department.

Nawaz is in the running for Pakistan because they are likely to select the extra spin all-rounder at the expense of a seamer.

Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), 2 Nishan Madhushka, 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Angelo Mathews, 5 Dinesh Chandimal, 6 Dhananjaya de Silva, 7 Sadeera Samarawickrama (wk), 8 Ramesh Mendis, 9 Prabath Jayasuriya, 10 Dilshan Madushanka, 11 Vishwa Fernando/Praveen Jayawickrama
Pakistan (probable): 1 Abdullah Shafique, 2 Imam-ul-Haq, 3 Shan Masood, 4 Babar Azam (capt), 5 Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), 6 Saud Shakeel, 7 Agha Salman, 8 Mohammad Nawaz, 9 Naseem Shah, 10 Abrar Ahmed, 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi