ABU DHABI: Rival captains Sarfraz Ahmed and Dinesh Chandimal hope the upcoming two-Test series between Pakistan and Sri Lanka will give them a new beginning with the first match starting here on Thursday.
Pakistan want to turn the page after the retirement of their two greats Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq while Sri Lanka will look to lift their recent poor showing in the longer format.
Playing without Younis and Misbah is unaccustomed territory for Pakistan, who haven’t had a Test featuring neither of the talismanic, prolific pair in seven years.
But Sarfraz, who will lead Pakistan for the first time in Tests, is confident that his team will avail the first opportunity.
“Obviously, you have two great players who were playing consistently but you have to move on,” Sarfraz said on Wednesday. “We have to remember the disciplines [of Younis and Misbah] and whatever they told us should be implemented on the field and start afresh.”
Together, Younis and Misbah have appeared in 193 Tests, accumulating 15,331 runs, 44 centuries and 15 century stands between them, briefly lifting the team to the top of the Test rankings in August last year.
They have dominated the batting at Pakistan’s venues in United Arab Emirates (UAE), where they have been forced to play home games since a deadly terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore in 2009.
The pair made Pakistan so invincible that they have not lost any of the nine series they have played in UAE.
Sarfraz has already led Pakistan in One-day Internationals and Twenty20 International and guided his team to ICC Champions Trophy title for the first time this year.
“This is my first opportunity as captain in Tests, so I will be up for that challenge and my players are also up to that and are very excited at this prospect.”
Pakistan will use experienced batsman Azhar Ali at number three after he opened the innings in the last 12 months and will promote Asad Shafiq from six to four.
“We have strengthened our middle order and I am confident that Azhar, Asad and Babar Azam will be up to the task to complement the batting,” said Sarfraz who himself has scored three Test hundreds.
Sarfraz said his team will not underestimate the opponents.
“Their team looks good,” Sarfraz said about Sri Lanka. “They have [Lahiru] Thirimanne and Kaushal Silva back so both the teams are young and I think it will be a good series.”
Chandimal believes Sri Lanka have the talent to improve after being thrashed 3-0 at home by India last month.
“From that last series we learnt a lot, especially we have done more work on our fitness and fielding. All we need to win is one game and everything will fall into place,” said Chandimal, whose team has lost seven of their last nine Tests, including one against Bangladesh.
They also came close to losing to minnows Zimbabwe in July before pulling off a close win.
Chandimal said they can benefit from the retirement of Younis and Misbah.
“Actually we can have a very good advantage because the main two batsmen are not there in their batting unit but we will have to step up in our performance as a unit and we have something in our powers to do that.”
Azhar was in doubt for the first Test here at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium after suffering a knee injury but he has since responded well to treatment, while Yasir Shah will lead the spin attack in a squad with five fast bowlers.
Yasir, who took 24 wickets in Pakistan’s 2-1 series win in Sri Lanka two years ago, will be assisted by uncapped spinners Mohammad Asghar and Bilal Asif.
Sri Lanka will be without their key all-rounder and former captain Angelo Mathews, who has been ruled out of the first Test with a calf strain.
But they will be buoyed by the return of their pace spearheads Nuwan Pradeep and Suranga Lakmal, who suffered injuries last month.
However, their main hope of winning the two-match series looks likely to hinge on veteran left-arm spinner Rangana Herath, who has 90 wickets in 19 Tests against Pakistan.
If Sri Lanka win the series they will rise one place to sixth in Test rankings while Pakistan will go down one place to seventh.
Pakistan’s series win will keep them on their current spot of sixth.
PAKISTAN: Sarfraz Ahmed (captain), Azhar Ali, Shan Masood, Sami Aslam, Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Usman Salahuddin, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Asghar, Bilal Asif, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Abbas, Wahab Riaz.
SRI LANKA: Dinesh Chandimal (captain), Lahiru Thirimanne, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kaushal Silva, Kusal Mendis, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Roshen Silva, Niroshan Dickwella, Rangana Herath, Lakshan Sandakan, Dilruwan Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep, Vishwa Fernando, Lahiru Gamage.