Sri Lanka vs Pakistan 1st Test: Preview and Prediction
Sri Lanka and Pakistan are all geared up for some red-ball action that starts on July 16. The 1st Test between the Asian nations will be played at the Galle International Stadium, Galle. This two-match Test series is a crucial one for both nations as it is a part of the 2023-35 World Test Championship fixture.
What have they done so far?
This is a fresh start of a WTC cycle and therefore both sides will be looking to kick off the phase on a positive note. But let us rewind back the days and have a glance at the last few red-ball games for both these nations.
Sri Lanka last played a Test series against Ireland where they eclipsed the European side 2-0 comprehensively. It wasn’t a part of the World Test Championship 2021-23 cycle and so they did not gain much dividends out of it. Prior to that, they had a good chance of making a cut to the WTC Final, provided they could defeat New Zealand in their backyard 2-0 and wait for the equation to rest in their favor.
Unfortunately, things did not go their way despite the valour the Lankans showcased against Kane Williamson and his battalions. Eventually, the Black Caps swerved their dreams of making it into the main event for the mace and it was India who benefitted after Sri Lanka faced a 2-0 drubbing away from home.
On the flip side, Pakistan last played a Test match against the same opposition that their upcoming opponent battled against. Babar Azam and his men welcomed the Kiwis but failed to win a single game. Both the Tests ended up as a draw and it had no effect on either team’s chances for WTC Final as they were already out of the race.
The highlighting bulletins from the two-match red-ball series was the rise of Abrar Ahmed and his ability to deceive the batters even on nearly dead strips. We also got to see some centuries being sparkled off the blade of Babar Azam, Saud Shakeel, Agha Salman, and Sarfaraz Ahmed.
Head to Head Record
When we speak about the head-to-head face-off between Sri Lanka and Pakistan in Tests, Pakistan leads the tally by some mere margins. Both nations have played 57 Tests against one another with Pakistan having earned 21 victories. Their counterparts- Sri Lanka have managed to topple the Men in Green on 17 occasions. And the remaining 19 matches have ended up as a draw.
If we have a zoomed view into the last 10 battles between the two nations, Sri Lanka has won five matches whereas Pakistan won one less i.e. four. One game played in Rawalpindi ended up as a stalemate.
Sri Lanka will be captained by their usual skipper Dimuth Karunaratne who was also a part of the 2023 World Cup Qualifiers and showcased a few impactful knocks with the bat in hand. The selectors have gone with the bulk of the players who were a part of the Ireland red-ball series in April.
Talk about the minute differences in the squad from Sri Lanka’s last red-ball series, Pathum Nissanka, who was overlooked has been summoned back. Left-arm quick, Dilshan Madushanka has earned a call-up in Tests while the experienced Kasun Rajitha returned to the camp as well. The left-arm spinner, Lasith Embuldeniya, and wrist spinner, Dushan Hemantha have been shadowed by the call-up of Lakshitha Manasinghe and Praveen Jayawickrama.
Both Manasinghe and Jayawickrama are arriving on the back of a brilliant outing for Sri Lanka A in the first-class format. The former bagged seven wickets across two innings of the first unofficial Test against the South Africa A side that toured the island nation in June. He played a requisite role in the Sri Lanka A team’s 160 runs victory.
The top order is likely to be filled by the duo of Karunaratne and Nissanka, followed by Kusal Mendis at no. 3. Veterans Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Mathews must fill the void in the middle order followed by Dhananjaya de Silva and Sadeera Samarawickrama. Kasun Rajitha is likely to lead the pace attack along with Dilshan Madushanka whereas Prabath Jayasuriya is expected to couple with Lakshitha Manasinghe who might make his Test debut.
On the other side, Pakistan has announced a 16-man Barbar Azam-led squad for their upcoming tour to the southern part of the Asian subcontinent. Among all the hustle and bustle, the return of Shaheen Afridi to whites has been the most positive news for the Pakistan side.
The selection committee have also decided to include two uncapped professionals in Mohammed Hurraira and Aamer Jamal. The former is a 21-year-old batting all-rounder who has an average of 68.24 in the First-Class stature. He was also a part of the Pakistan U-19 team earlier. Meanwhile, Jamal is known for his sheer all-round skills with pace-bowling in the limelight. He fetched 64 wickets in 23 matches in First-Class cricket.
The team composes of renowned names such as Abdullah Shafique, Hasan Ali, Shan Masood, Imam-ul-Haq, etc. Salman Ali Agha and Saud Shakeel have been brilliant at the lower middle order for Pakistan in the last couple of years and therefore retain their positions. The top order of batting is likely to be stacked by Shafique, Imam, Babar, and Masood.
Now, it is to be seen whether Pakistan sticks to Sarfaraz Ahmed as the wicketkeeper or they bring back Rizwan in front. The former Pakistan captain was brilliant in the second Test against New Zealand in January 2023, notching up a vital century when it mattered the most.
When it comes to the bowling department, Shaheen is likely to spearhead the attack with the likes of Naseem Shah or Hasan Ali. With the conditions of Galle, they might opt for two spinners. Abrar Ahmed buoyed up as one of the stars in the past year and is likely to be accompanied by either Nauman Ali or Mohammed Nawaz.
Dimuth Karunaratne: The Sri Lankan veteran has been one the mainstays in this format for a decade. The Southpaw averages 83.50 in 2023 with a score of 179 under his name. In the past three years, his average has always been over 40. This speaks about the consistency with which he has been batting for Sri Lanka across various conditions.
The left-handed batter was also in terrific form during the recently concluded World Cup Qualifier 2023 where Sri Lanka emerged with the silverware. He smashed 369 runs from seven innings during this competition with a ton that came against Ireland.
Babar Azam: The Pakistan captain has been phenomenal with the bat in hand since his inception in 2016. He has been scoring runs for fun against various opposition and conditions. Babar has an average of 67.75 in Tests in Sri Lanka. Moreover, he also notched up 1184 runs in 17 innings with a magnificent average of 69.64 in the calendar year 2022.
The right-handed batter is a very good player of both pace and spin and one can expect him to fare well against the Lankan attack.
Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne ©, Pathum Nissanka, Kusal Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal, Angelo Mathews, Dhananjaya de Silva, Sadeera Samarawickrama (wk), Kasun Rajitha, Dilshan Madushanka, Prabath Jayasuriya, Lakshitha Manasinghe
Pakistan: Abdullah Shafique, Imam-ul Haq, Babar Azam ©, Shan Masood, Saud Shakeel, Agha Salman, Mohammed Rizwan (wk), Mohammed Nawaz, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Afridi, Abrar Ahmad
With a lot of experienced personnel in Sri Lanka’s line-up, it won’t be that easy for Pakistan to breach beat them at home conditions. Also, the Lankan Lions became the Asian Champions and World Cup Qualifier winners in the past twelve months. So, they must be oozing confidence and would be hoping to carry the momentum into the red-ball series.