Sri Lanka enters the Pakistani Cricketing Den

ONE = Shenai Anushka, in Sunday Times, 8 December 2019, where the title reads thus – “Sri Lanka’s gruelling test in ‘unknown’ Pakistan’

Sri Lanka’s full-strength Test team will embark on a significant tour of Pakistan today to play two matches as part of the ICC World Test Championship. Pakistan has not hosted Test cricket since the 2009 Lahore attack on the Sri Lanka team that wounded several players, staff members and killed a few security officers. The series was initially scheduled to be played in October with the most likely venue to be the UAE. However after successfully hosting the second-string Sri Lanka team in the limited-overs leg in August and September, they forced Sri Lanka Cricket to play the Test series in Pakistan.

The first match is scheduled to start on December 11 in Rawalpindi, followed by the second game in Karachi from December 19. However, not having a practice match would be a concern for the Lankans. Can they get into the Test match rhythm straight away in a country where nobody has played Test cricket for over a decade, by conducting only two training sessions?

Most of the players have been playing white-ball cricket over the past two months and their last competitive red-ball match was the second Test match against New Zealand in August which Sri Lanka lost by an innings and 65 runs at P. Sara Stadium.

Only young left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya had the opportunity to play in the SLC U23 Inter-Club Tournament, while the other players took part in the Singer-MCA Tournaments or T10 Tournament.

During the New Zealand Tests, former skipper Dinesh Chandimal was discarded despite having an average of 41.86. But it is highly likely that he will be slotted back into the playing XI in Rawalpindi. If Chandimal is picked, it will be interesting to see whether he will make the lineup purely as a batsman at the expense of Kusal Perera, who scored only 24 runs in 4 innings against New Zealand or as the stumper of the side, replacing Niroshan Dickwella.

Oshada Fernando, had a stellar debut series in South Africa, but has since been overlooked for Tests. He is likely to open the batting with skipper Dimuth Karunaratne followed by Kusal Mendis and Angelo Mathews.

The team management will only take a call whether to play three seamers and one specialist spinner or two seamers and two spinners after taking a closer look at the pitch. How they use all-rounder Dhananjaya de Silva, is key to balance the combination.

Adverse weather in the island dampened Sri Lanka’s training sessions over the past few weeks. Last Friday, they had a rather successful practice session under the watchful eyes of their new head coach Mickey Arthur, who will be taking on his former employers, Pakistan in his first assignment. He was Pakistan’s head coach until August and was clearly disappointed when they didn’t renew his contract after the World Cup, where Pakistan failed to qualify for the semi-finals. As he begins his tenure with Sri Lanka Cricket, bagging all 120 points available in Pakistan would surely be former South African and Australian coach’s target.

However, the Pakistanis are coming back after a disastrous tour down under where their bowling attack was termed ‘the worst ever on Australian shores’ by former captain Ricky Ponting. The 0-2 loss at the hands of Australians definitely hurt the pride of Pakistan cricket. Nevertheless, they will be excited to play Test cricket in front of their home crowds since most of their players have not played the longest format of the game in their own backyard.

“When we played in UAE we had a plan as to how to get results there but here we will have to first look at the pitches and then see what plans to make to get results in Pakistan,” Azhar Ali said after returning to Pakistan from Australia. “We have to come up with a new game plan. We want a track that suits us. We need to start afresh on how to win Tests in Pakistan.”

Misbah-Ul-Haq, the chief selector and head coach of Pakistan, is under tremendous pressure after the Australian tour hence expect several changes to the squad which has not been announced yet.

NOTES

TWO: Elmo Rodrigopulle, in Sunday Observer, 8 December 2019 .. …..”Test cricket returns to Imran Khan country :Pakistanis gritting their teeth to devour the Lankans”

The Pakistani cricketers will be gritting their teeth in hunger waiting to make mincemeat and devour the Sri Lankan cricketers when they meet in the first of two Tests beginning at Rawalpindi on Wednesday. The Pakistani hunger stems from the fact that they were disgraced by the Australians who outplayed them in the Two Test Series that concluded ‘down under’ recently. When the umpires call ‘play’ on Wednesday, it will signal the return of what the game is about – Test cricket – to international cricket starved Pakistan after nearly a decade.

Brutal and insensible

When the Sri Lankans toured Pakistan last time, they were fortunate to survive a brutal and insensible terrorist attack. From that moment onwards Pakistan became a cricketing grave yard and they were forced to play all their international cricket in desert country – Dubai and Abu Dhabi as all foreign teams feared to tour Pakistan.

Pakistan finally managed to lure Sri Lanka to tour there for a T20 series which was a resounding success providing security meant for Royalty and there were no untoward incidents which was great credit to the Pakistan Cricket Board and its Government which has former debonair all rounder and captain who led them win the World Cup Imran Khan as Prime Minister.

Initially Sri Lanka were a bit reluctant to undertake the tour, but saner counsel prevailed and the tour has finally become a reality and all cricket crazy Pakistanis are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Lankan willow wielders to give them a rousing and memorable welcome.

Goodwill and cheer

In this season of goodwill and cheer the Sri Lankan cricketing contingent led by Dimuth Karunaratne take with them glad tidings of joy wishing the wonderful people of Pakistan that other countries fighting shy to play cricket there will have a change of heart and return to playing in Pakistan where like in India cricket is religion.

Having said that we move on to mid pitch in Rawalpindi where the action will begin. The pitch and the ground looks a picture and big crowds are expected to soak in the action on each of the five days of action encouraging and inspiring the cricketing actors of both teams.

The Pakistanis led by Babar Azam, although losing to Australia will be no pushovers for the Lankans. They had to concede defeat to the Australians who were the better performers in all aspects where in addition to having the better cricketers and with the pitches and conditions favouring them.

Exciting batsmen

Pakistan have some exciting batsmen in the top half and aware how the wicket will play will be determined to get among the runs, pile up an avalanche of runs and let their bowlers make life difficult for the Lankan batsmen to survive. In openers Masood and Imam-Ul-Haq and other batsmen to follow such as Ali, Shafiq, skipper Azam, Ahmed and Rizwn they have some punishing stoke makers who could make the best of attacks look mediocre with their dashing stroke play. Having failed miserably in Australia Head Coach and Chief Selector Misbah-ul-Haq would have got them back to the drawing boards, showed them where and what they did wrong, put things right and have them firing all cylinders in the Two Tests.

Special interest

Of special interest on the tour of Australia was the revelation by leg spinner Yasir Shah that in addition to his cunning and wicket taking leg spin/googly bowling that there is a lot of batting in him as the fifty and maiden Test century he scored batting at number 8. Against Lanka he is sure to make runs and add to his stature.

Although the Pakistani pacemen Afridi, Abbas and Musa failed to impress with the new ball against the strong Australian batting with opener David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne especially knocking them around, on their home pitches they should be more worrying and penetrative.

Of great interest will be the watching of how 16 year old Naseem Shah rated as the fastest going right arm paceman in the cricket world today will perform. In Aussieland he bowled with a lot of pace and fire, but it was one of those things that he could not get among the wickets. The Pakistani selectors are sure to persist with him and give him consistency which is so very essential for a bowler full of his promise to succeed.

Magic spin web

One bowler who is sure to spin his magic web round the Sri Lankan batsmen and have them in a flat spin is leg spinning/googly specialist right armer Yasir Shah. The Aussie batsmen showed that by using their feet well how to counter top class spin bowling. We hope the Lankan batsmen will follow that example, use their feet and not be chained to their crease and gift their wickets to Shah. As for the Lankans they will be hoping for a sound start from their openers Karunaratne and Oshada Fernando for batsmen such as Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal and Dhananjaya de Silva to help swell the total. They are all capable batsmen of putting any attack to the sword. What they need to do is shed their one-day slap bang approach, concentrate, have patience and stay put long at the wicket because Test cricket is a different ball game.

Special interest

Of special interest will be to watch how the most neglected talented right hander Dinesh Chandimal will fare. He must be a bit rusty after being forced to be in cricket’s wilderness for long. It is said that class is permanent, form is temporary and Chandimal need not worry because a run harvest awaits him. As for the bowling the experienced Suranga Lakmal will lead the pack with left armer Vishva Fernando and Kasun Rajitha for support. For spin the Lankans will rely on offie Dilruwan Perera and either Embuldeniya or mystery spinner Lakshan Sandakan to torment the opposing batsmen.

However the think tanks of both teams will decide on the final playing elevens only after having a look at the wicket and the conditions. The team winning the toss and taking first strike will have advantage on their side.

Wholesale changes

With wholesale changes in the Sri Lankan cricketing staff on the cards after the tour, this will be the final fling as Interim Head Coach for former all rounder Rumesh Ratnayake. Ratnayake did his best with the talent given to him and here’s hoping that the cricketers will give him a memorable send off by winning the series.

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Filed under Angelo Mathews, cricket and life, cricket governance, cricketing icons, performance, player selections, sportsmanship, Sri Lanka Cricket

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