Zak Crawley has enhanced his burgeoning reputation with a near faultless first Test century to lead England to a commanding 4-332 at stumps on Day 1 of their third and final Test against Pakistan in Southampton.
Finally, it is no longer the United Arab Emirates that Pakistan have to fall back on to host their Tests.
December 11, 2019 will mark the new dawn of Test cricket in their own home ever since it faced a lock down in the year 2009 after a devastating set of events. And while the seeds were sown for this occasion since the year 2015, Sri Lanka – despite undergoing a horrific turn of events – refused to cut down on any relations with Pakistan. A decade later, the same country have mustered the courage to give their subcontinent rivals another crack at hosting them in Test cricket.
On the cricketing front, the home side aren’t in a comfortable spot. Misbah-ul-Haq’s dual role both as a selector and coach has come under intense scrutiny. Their core strength – the pace bowling department – proved toothless in Australia, having picked up only 13 wickets in two Tests. On the other side of the coin, the think tank would be thrilled to welcome Fawad Alam back into the national set-up.
Along with Babar Azam and Asad Shafiq, the 34-year-old can help the men in green rebuild their middle-order for the next few months. But, of course, there is the World Test Championship that also counts, and the return of cricket to their nation acts as a huge psychological boost to get their first points. Sitting at number eight in the Test rankings, Pakistan would love to revive their fortunes at their home fortress.
The Sri Lankans have been held together by none other than their skipper, Dimuth Karunaratne. The tourists have all their core players, the majority of whom refused to travel to Pakistan for the limited-overs leg. This is a full-strength Sri Lankan side, who can fancy their chances against a wounded Pakistan outfit. If anything, the visitors need to be wary of Yasir Shah, who can become fiery in the subcontinent decks.
It will also be interesting to see how the new head coach of Sri Lanka, Mickey Arthur, can help them strategise against his former team. Sitting fourth in the ICC Test Championship and sixth in the ICC Test rankings, Dimuth Karunaratne’s men will hope to elevate their position and aim to replicate their commanding away series victory against Pakistan on their last tour to the UAE in 2017-18.
Finding his way back in the squad after a decade, Fawad Alam is expected to walk straight into the playing XI. Apart from that, Azhar Ali can go back to grab the top spot and open along with Shan Masood. On the bowling front, the home side is likely to field three pacers with Yasir Shah taking the lone slot of the spinner.
There is much hype around the veteran Fawad Alam, who played the last of his three Test matches in 2009 and his last game for Pakistan in 2015. He has set the domestic circuit ablaze with his consistent and heavy run-scoring, but was ignored by the selectors. Having earned a recall at last, he conceded that playing for Pakistan again feels like a second debut and is confident of delivering the goods.
Pakistan predicted XI: Shan Masood, Azhar Ali (c) Fawad Alam, Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Yasir Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammad Abbas, Naseem Shah.
On the other hand, the Sri Lankans have got more of a settled side and may not make a whole lot of changes despite the loss to New Zealand in their last Test. Suranga Lakmal, who is set to miss the entire series due to dengue, will be the only notable omission. They are likely to field three front-line fast bowlers with Dilruwan Perera and Dhananjaya de Silva expected to share the spinning duties.
The Sri Lankan skipper has quietly gone about his business by leading his side to one of their most significant Test series victories earlier this year in South Africa. Dimuth Karunaratne showed his class with the bat against New Zealand, notably by acing a tricky run chase in the first Test through his hundred. The 31-year-old, along with his calmness in the field and his level-headed game play, can spoil the party of Pakistan’s homecoming.
Sri Lanka predicted XI: Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Kusal Perera, Dhananjaya de Silva, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dilruwan Perera, Vishwa Fernando, Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Rajitha.
1. Played 53, Pakistan 19, Sri Lanka 16, Drawn 18.
2. Shan Masood needs 51 runs to reach 1000 in Test cricket.
3. No player from either camp was present the last time Sri Lanka played a Test in Pakistan.
4. Although the last five-day fixture played in Pakistan was in 2009, the previous Test hosted by the Rawalpindi Cricket Ground was in 2004. India registered a victory in that Test in 2004, winning their first Test in Pakistan in 50 years.