Abu Dhabi: A confident Pakistan team landed in Dubai for their upcoming series against Sri Lanka, fired up following their Champions Trophy triumph as well as a successful hosting of the Independence Cup against the World XI earlier this month.
The entire nation will be hoping that the cricketing world would have taken firm note of the smooth conduct of the tournament, enough to erase the memories of the 2009 terror attack that drove international cricket away from their shores.
Following the successful ODI and T20 campaigns, victories in Champions Trophy, where they defeated arch rivals India, and in the Independence Cup against World XI, Sarfraz Ahmad has been hailed for his leadership qualities and hence handed charge for the Test series against Sri Lanka starting on September 28. The team’s first official training at the Shaikh Zayed Stadium is scheduled for Monday.
The second Test, which will be a day-night pink ball contest, will be played in Dubai from October 6. The two teams are also scheduled to play five one-day internationals and three Twenty20s, the last of them scheduled to be played in Lahore on October 29.
Pakistan cricket fans and officials are hoping the Lahore game can showcase their readiness to host international matches once more.
The Test series will be a different challenge altogether for skipper Sarfraz as, for the first time in years, Pakistan will be sans their two veteran stalwarts in Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, both of whom retired in May.
This is a transition period for Pakistan cricket but, under the impeccable leadership of Sarfraz, they believe the team will respond well even in the longer format.
The Pakistan selectors, after giving the cold shoulder to experienced opener Mohammad Hafeez, have left out Ahmad Shehzad following the preparatory camp and put their faith in Shan Masood and Sami Aslam, who last played for Pakistan in December.
There are five uncapped players in the squad with 26-year-old middle-order batsman Usman Salahuddin and Haris Sohail entrusted with the toughest task of filling the huge void left by Misbah and Younis.
Surely, the focus of the series will be on this young duo who will have to show a lot of character and endurance to come anywhere remotely close to what Misbah and Younis have achieved in their illustrious careers through which they amassed over 15,000 Test runs between them from nearly 200 Tests.
Pakistan’s batting coach Grant Flower, in a recent interview, had spoken highly about the two youngsters saying that, from among the current lot of young players, Sohail and Salahuddin were the ones in whom he could see “lot of potential” but also cautioned that it will take a long time for them to “establish themselves to match the greatness of Misbah and Younis.”
Azhar Ali has also found a place in the squad after getting over a cyst problem in a knee and having cleared the fitness test.
Experienced spinner Yasir Shah too managed to put fitness concerns to rest and is expected to bowl in tandem with spin-bowling all-rounder Bilal Asif and left-arm spinner Mohammad Asghar. Both Asif and Asghar are yet to play in Tests and it will be interesting to see how they rise to the challenge in conditions expected to firmly suit them.
Pakistan’s fast bowling options have received a boost with Wahab Riaz being recalled into the squad to back the fiery pace of Mohammed Amir and Hasan Ali. And also keep a close watch on another newcomer Mir Hamza. The 25-year-old left-arm medium pacer has staked a claim to a place in the squad following a strong domestic season. In his 46 First-Class matches, he has picked up 216 wickets.
Sarfraz, ahead of his maiden Test challenge as captain, has backed the selection and termed the side as a well-balanced one. “There are both spinners and fast bowlers in the squad and we will have a strong middle order as that is crucial in the Test format,” added Sarfraz.
Pakistan squad: Azhar Ali, Shan Masood, Sami Aslam, Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Usman Salahuddin, Sarfraz Ahmad (captain, wicketkeeper), Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Abbas, Mir Hamza, Yasir Shah, Bilal Asif, Mohammad Asghar