Rival skippers excited as Pakistan, Sri Lanka set for historic Test - GulfToday

Rival skippers excited as Pakistan, Sri Lanka set for historic Test

Rival skippers excited as Pakistan,  Sri Lanka set for historic Test

Sri Lankan players attend a practice session ahead of their first Test match against Pakistan in Rawalpindi on Tuesday.

 Pakistan’s captain Azhar Ali thanked Sri Lanka on Tuesday for returning to Pakistan for the first Test tour there in a decade, after a fatal militant attack on their team in 2009 drove international cricket away.

“It’s a historic occasion and all the players are excited to be part of this,” Azhar, who has played 75 Tests — but, until now, none at home — said at a press conference in Rawalpindi with his counterpart, Dimuth Karunaratne.

“We thank the Sri Lankan team for coming here. The last Test was also against them so their visit will send a strong message to the world that we need to support each other,” he said.

Eight people were killed and several players and officials were wounded when militants opened fire on the Sri Lankan team bus travelling to a Test in Lahore in 2009. The attack plunged Pakistan into sporting isolation during its years-long battle with militancy, with all “home” venues played in the UAE.

But with security dramatically improving in recent years international cricket began creeping back starting in 2015, albeit only for limited overs.

Sri Lanka will play two Tests under heavy security, one in Rawalpindi and the second in Karachi, ending a decade-long absence for cricket’s five-day format. They will be the first home Tests for all 16 players in the Pakistan squad.

“Cricket is the biggest thing and if the youngsters can’t see matches here then it’s a big loss for our cricket and budding players,” Azhar said.

“I am sure our grounds will host more matches in the years to come.”

Karunaratne — who refused to tour Pakistan for a limited over series in September-October this year — shared his rival’s sentiments.

“I am really excited... The players are excited to be part of this historic occasion,” he said.

Sri Lanka are on the up in Test cricket after becoming the first Asian team to win a series in South Africa earlier this year. They then drew a Test series 1-1 against New Zealand at home in August, their first fixture in the World Test championship.

Sri Lanka have not lost a series in Pakistan since 1992 — winning two and drawing two.

They beat Pakistan 2-0 in their last series in UAE two years ago, a win Karunaratne hoped will motivate them.

“We played good cricket in 2017 so that confidence is with us,” he said.

Pakistan, meanwhile, are smarting from a 3-0 defeat in South Africa and 2-0 in Australia this year.

“Test cricket demands discipline and they (Sri Lanka) are a well disciplined side, whether playing at their home or away so we have to play disciplined and good cricket,” Azhar said, adding that as captain he has to “lead by example”.

He managed just 59 in six innings in South Africa and 62 in four in Australia.

“We had a tough series in Australia and it’s very unfortunate the way we lost there, it was disappointing,” Azhar said.

“(But) moving forward we see this home series as an opportunity and advantage to turn things around.”

Pakistan have picked uncapped left-arm fast bowler Usman Shinwari in hope Pindi Stadium’s pitch will live up to its reputation as helpful to seamers. But Pakistan have history against its side, as they have has lost their last three Tests in Rawalpindi.

Azhar is also wary of a Sri Lanka side featuring captain Karunaratne, Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne, and former captain Angelo Matthews. Fast bowler Suranga Lakmal, who toured in 2009, had to pull out at the last minute due to dengue fever.

Sri Lanka also has an advantage of good knowledge about Pakistan from Mickey Arthur, who was hired as the Sri Lanka coach last week. Arthur coached Pakistan for three years until he was removed after the Cricket World Cup in England in July.

“Definitely, if someone is with you for so long he does have a lot of information about you,” Azhar said with a smile. “But in cricket these days we all have a lot of knowledge about each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and yet players score runs ... like David Warner did against us recently.”

The second Test is in Karachi from Dec.19.

Agencies