10 years and nine months. Yep! This is exactly the amount of time that it has taken for International Test cricket to return to Pakistan soil. During this period an entire generation of Pakistanis has grown up bereft of watching their heroes playing on their home grounds. And ironically it is the same opposition who was attacked on that forgetful March morning in 2009, that has once again returned with a hope of better security arrangements as Test cricket finally kicks off in the terror-ravaged nation.
If Pakistan has waited for ten long years for Test cricket to return to their shores, the Rawalpindi Cricket Ground has waited for almost 15 and a half years for a five-day fixture. The last time a Test match was played in Rawalpindi, MS Dhoni was still six months away from his International debut, Australia was still the No.1 team in the world, T20 revolution was still a few years away, social media was in its nascent stage and former selector Inzamam-ul-Haq was still the captain of Pakistan. 2004. India vs Pakistan; the Test match where Rahul Dravid scripted his career-best score of 270 as the Men in Blue registered their first-ever win on Pakistan soil in 50 years.
It has been that long. And, as Rawalpindi and Pakistan braces for International homecoming, the home side will hope that the result of the previous game at the venue isn’t repeated and Azhar Ali and Co can make it an event to remember courtesy their performances. As for the visitors, they’ll once again hope they can once again turn out to be the gatecrashers in Pakistan’s homecoming party; as they had done with a depleted side back in September.
One of the things that everyone is intrigued about, every time Pakistan plays an International fixture, is what will be the makeup of the playing 11? And, the intrigue has increased many folds this time around, especially after getting hammered at the hands of Australia. One of the issues that Pakistan faced in Australia was their opening combination.
With Azhar Ali batting at No.3, Abid Ali was seen as an ideal partner for Shan Masood. However, Misbah and the team-management opted for Imam-ul-Haq, who failed to make any impact against Starc and co. But, as things stand, considering the amount of practice, Imam has been doing leading into the Test match, it looks like the team-management will go ahead with the southpaw for the 1st Test.
The rest of the batting order picks itself with skipper Azhar Ali at No.3, followed by Babar Azam, the comeback man Fawad Alam and Asad Shafiq. Mohammad Rizwan will take up the wicketkeeping gloves. With Rawalpindi’s track expected to aid fast bowlers, Kashif Bhatti could miss out with Yasir Shah playing as the sole spinner while the seam department could be led by Mohammad Abbas, Shaheen Shah Afridi.
It will be interesting to see whether Pakistan goes with 16-year-old Naseem Shah, who missed the second Test against Australia or they opt for either of Usman Shinwari or Imran Khan.
Probable XI: Imam-ul-Haq, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali (c), Babar Azam, Fawad Alam, Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Yasir Shah, Mohammad Abbas, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah/Usman Shinwari/Imran Khan Junior.
Sri Lanka has had a mixed year in Test cricket. While they scripted the historic series win in South Africa (2-0), the island nation was blanked 0-2 by Australia and was held to a 1-1 draw at home by New Zealand. With crucial 120 championship points up for grabs, the visitors will hope to add them to their kitty and spoil Pakistan’s party.
As usual, Dimuth Karunaratne will open the batting with Lahiru Thiramanne followed by the likes of Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera and Angelo Mathews in the middle-order. It will be interesting to see whether Sri Lanka opt to play former captain Dinesh Chandimal after having benched him against New Zealand.
Niroshan Dickwella will don the ‘keeping gloves while Dilruwan Perera and Dhananjaya de Silva will lead the all-rounder’s department. With Suranga Lakmal injured, the likes of Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Rajitha and Vishwa Fernando could lead the fast bowling department.
Probable XI: Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Lahiru Thiramanne, Kusal Mendis , Kusal Perera, Angelo Mathews, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dhananjaya de Silva, Dilruwan Perera, Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Rajitha, Vishwa Fernando/Lasith Embuldeniya.
Focus will be on
Fawad Alam (Pakistan)
It is not only Pakistan’s homecoming, but also the return to the set-up after ten long years for Fawad Alam. Alam, who last played a Test match against New Zealand in November 2009, is all set to make a comeback against a side he’d made his Test debut ten years ago. Naturally, all eyes will be on the comeback man.
Dimuth Karunaratne (Sri Lanka)
Karunaratne has proved to be the leader Sri Lanka needed desperately. Under his leadership, the island nation scripted a whirlwind heist when they became the first Asian team to win a Test series in South Africa, and the skipper will now be looking to continue with the good run with both his bat (he was the leading run-scorer against New Zealand- 247 runs at 61.75) as well as the leader of the side.
2– Test matches Pakistan have won against Sri Lanka since the start of 2015. During this period, they have lost three which also included a series loss in the UAE back in 2017.
2004– The last time a Test match was held in Rawalpindi. Rahul Dravid made his career-best of 270 as India registered a series win on Pakistan soil after 50 years.
8– Test matches Pakistan have won against Sri Lanka on home soil.
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