Pakistan captain banking on experience from last year’s tour
Pakistan is set to kick off their action-packed international cricket season for 2023-24 with a challenging Test match against Sri Lanka in Galle. The opening Test of the ICC World Test Championship 2023-25 will take place on Sunday, followed by the second and final Test in Colombo starting on July 24.
In addition to their participation in the ICC World Test Championship, Pakistan has a busy schedule ahead, including the ACC Asia Cup, ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023, and the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2024 within the next 12 months. With a series of back-to-back international cricket matches across all formats, Pakistan’s captain, Babar Azam, and his team will be aiming for a strong start in Galle.
Galle has been a venue where Pakistan and Sri Lanka have experienced mixed results. Out of the seven Tests played there so far, Sri Lanka has emerged victorious four times (in 2009, 2012, 2014, and 2022), while Pakistan has won on three occasions, including an impressive victory by an innings and 163 runs in 2000. When Pakistan last triumphed in Galle twelve months ago, they successfully chased down a target of 342 runs with Abdullah Shafique scoring an unbeaten 160 and Babar Azam contributing 119 in the first innings, followed by 55 in the second. Among the bowlers, Shaheen Shah Afridi, who unfortunately got injured during the second innings and was ruled out, took four wickets in the first innings. Notably, Mohammad Nawaz claimed five wickets for 88 runs, and Yasir Shah took three wickets for 122 runs in the second innings.
Out of the current squad, 13 players were part of the victorious side that toured Sri Lanka a year ago. The three newcomers are all-rounder Aamir Jamal, mystery-spinner Abrar Ahmed, and middle-order batter Mohammad Huraira.
Pakistan captain Babar Azam expressed his excitement about returning to the red-ball format and emphasized the importance of consistency across all formats. He highlighted the presence of experienced players from the previous tour to Galle and lauded Abrar Ahmed as a valuable addition to the team. Babar Azam also expressed his delight at the return of Shaheen Shah Afridi, whose wicket-taking abilities and presence boost the team’s morale. Shaheen, sitting on 99 Test wickets, will be eager to become the fourth fastest Pakistan fast bowler to reach the milestone of 100 wickets.
Before the Test series, Pakistan’s batsmen Shan Masood, Babar Azam, and Saud Shakeel scored half-centuries, while the bowlers Hasan Ali, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Abrar Ahmed, and Aamir Jamal impressed with their wicket-taking performances against the SLC Board XI in Hambantota.
Recognizing that Sri Lanka will rely on their strength in spin bowling, Pakistan is well-prepared to face the challenge. The team has received valuable insights about the Sri Lankan side from their former coach, Mickey Arthur. Babar Azam emphasized the importance of sticking to the basics, patience, and showcasing skills, temperament, and stamina, which are essential in Test cricket.
Despite not achieving favorable results in Test matches over the past year, Babar Azam believes that the team has developed and grown significantly.
Babar Azam, the holder of the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy for the ICC Men’s Cricketer of the Year 2022, boasts an impressive record in Test cricket with 3,696 runs in 47 matches, including nine centuries and 26 half-centuries. He is the only cricketer to be ranked in the top three across all formats, currently standing at third in Tests, first in ODIs, and second in T20Is.
The squads for the upcoming Test series are yet to be finalized, with Pakistan’s potential squad including players such as Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan, Aamir Jamal, Abdullah Shafique, Abrar Ahmed, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Huraira, Mohammad Nawaz, Naseem Shah, Noman Ali, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Saud Shakeel, Shaheen Afridi, and Shan Masood. Sri Lanka’s squad, led by Dimuth Karunaratne, is expected to feature players like Nishan Madushka, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Matthews, Dinesh Chandimal, Dhananjaya de Silva, Pathum Nissanka, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Kamindu Mendis, Ramesh Mendis, Prabath Jayasuriya, Praveen Jayawickrama, Kasun Rajitha, Dilshan Madushanka, Vishwa Fernando, and Lakshitha Manasinghe.
The match officials for the Test series include Rod Tucker and Alex Wharf as on-field umpires, Chris Gaffaney as the third umpire, and David Boon as the match referee.