Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka will look to improve their dismal Test record over the past year when they take on a self-destructing Pakistan side in a three-match series from Friday.
The Sri Lankans have won just two of their last 14 Tests and lost six, but remain a force on home soil where they drew a two-match series against top-ranked England in March and April.
Mahela Jayawardene’s men have already handed Pakistan a warning by wrapping up the one-day series 3-1 after both teams shared the two Twenty20 internationals.
“The Test series was always going to be [a] big challenge, but winning is a good habit to have, so hopefully we can continue this momentum,” Jayawardene said ahead of the first Test in Galle.
“We have some experienced players coming in for the Tests. It’s going to be a great opportunity for us. It’s important that we start fresh and start well.”
Pakistan, who defeated Sri Lanka in all three formats in the UAE last year, were let down by poor fielding and batting in the one-dayers.
But a worse blow hit them on Tuesday when skipper Misbah-ul Haq was banned from playing in the first Test by the International Cricket Council for a slow over-rate in Monday’s final one-dayer in Colombo.
Misbah was penalised for his team falling three overs short, which ICC match referee Chris Broad said was a “serious over-rate offence” in One Day Internationals.
Instead Mohammad Hafeez will lead the tourists in Galle as Pakistan bid to bounce back and continue their remarkable run in Test cricket despite being forced to play abroad due to security concerns at home.
Pakistan have won seven of their last nine Tests, including a brilliant 3-0 whitewash of Andrew Strauss’ England in the UAE earlier this year.
They have banked on a potent bowling attack led by prolific off-spinner Saeed Ajmal, who was the world’s leading Test wicket-taker last year with 50 scalps in eight matches.
This year, Ajmal has already grabbed 24 wickets in three Tests against England, and will remain the main threat facing Sri Lanka.
Pakistan endured a nightmarish outing in their last Test series in Sri Lanka in 2009 when they lost 2-0.
They missed a modest victory target of 168 in the first Test in Galle, slumping to 117 all out after being 71 for two at one stage.
In the second Test in Colombo, Pakistan were dismissed for 90 in the first innings on a good batting pitch and then lost eight wickets for 26 runs in the second knock, losing the game by seven wickets.
But if they were to win this series 3-0, Pakistan would surpass arch-rivals India to take fourth spot in the Test rankings. A 2-0 scoreline would see them draw level with India on 111 rating points.
Misbah hoped the team’s past Test performances will help them put the one-day defeats behind them.
“We need to forget about the one-dayers and start afresh,” he said. “We have done well in Test matches in the last two years. We need to recall those performances and start afresh.”
Sixth-placed Sri Lanka will also take note of the Test ranking, as a 3-0 or 2-0 series win will see them leapfrog Pakistan to number five.
The second Test will be played in Colombo from June 30 and the third in Pallekele from July 8.