Pak vs SL: Babar Azam ‘ready’ for Sri Lanka challenge
GALLE: Pakistan skipper Babar Azam Saturday said that they are prepared and ready for the Sri Lanka challenge as the team hoped to lift the trophy in two-match Test series starting tomorrow.
Pakistan will launch their busy, challenging and action-packed 2023-24 international cricket season with the first Test of the ICC World Test Championship 2023-25 against the hosts on Sunday.
The side will play the second and concluding Test of the series in Colombo from 24 July.
Apart from the ICC World Test Championship matches, the national side is also scheduled to participate in the ACC Asia Cup, ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 and the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2024 in the next 12 months.
With all-format back-to-back international cricket lined-up, a strong start in Galle is what Babar and his side will be aiming for.
Galle is a venue where Pakistan and Sri Lanka have achieved mixed results. In the seven Tests to date, the hosts have won four times (2009, 2012, 2014 and 2022), while Pakistan have won thrice – by an innings and 163 runs (2000), 10 wickets (2015) and four wickets (2022).
When Pakistan last won in Galle 12 months ago, the tourists chased down the 342-run target for the loss of six wickets with Abdullah Shafique scoring a memorable 160 not out and Babar Azam following up his 119 in the first innings with 55.
Amongst the bowlers, Shaheen Shah Afridi took four wickets in the first innings before he was injured during the second innings and was ruled out of further participation. However, best bowling figures of five for 88 from Mohammad Nawaz and Yasir Shah’s three for 122 combined in the second innings to share wickets.
From the current squad, 13 players were part of the side that toured Sri Lanka 12 months ago. The three newcomers are all-rounder Aamir Jamal, mystery-spinner Abrar Ahmed and middle-order batter Mohammad Huraira.
“Really excited to be back in red-ball format and all eyes are on the Galle Test as we are prepared and ready for the challenge,” Babar said.
“We are taking one step at a time, but we have to be consistent across all formats,” he added.
The skipper said that one of the positives going into the Galle Test is that 13 of the players played at the venue 12 months ago. He said that Abrar Ahmed had identified himself as a good option in our combination.
“I am sure this tour will be a good learning curve for him as we have high hopes from him in this and future series.”
Babar expressed optimism, saying he was pleased with the return of star pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi.
“Besides his wicket-taking abilities, his presence always motivates and lifts the side. I know Shaheen has badly missed red-ball cricket and is now hungry for Test cricket.”
Shaheen is sitting on 99 Test wickets and will aim to become the fourth fastest Pakistani pacer to complete a century of wickets. He could have achieved this feat last year had he not been sidelined due to a knee injury.
Last year, Shan Masood, Babar and Saud Shakeel scored half-centuries, while Hasan Ali, Shaheen, Ahmed and Aamir Jamal took wickets against the SLC Board XI in Hambantota.
“Like any host country, Sri Lanka will like to play to their strength, which is spin bowling. We have had good feedback about the Sri Lanka side from their former coach Mickey Arthur and I think we are well prepared to take them on. We will stick to basics and be patient as this is Test cricket, which is a test of skills, temperament and stamina.
“Test results in the past 12 months may not have been in our favour, but we have definitely developed and grown as a side.”
Babar Azam is the holder of the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy for the ICC Men’s Cricketer of the Year for 2022. He has to date scored 3,696 runs in 47 Tests with nine centuries and 26 half-centuries. He is the only cricketers to feature inside the top-three across all formats – third in Tests, first in ODIs and second in T20Is.
Squads (to be selected from):
Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Mohammad Rizwan, Aamir Jamal, Abdullah Shafique, Abrar Ahmed, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Huraira, Mohammad Nawaz, Naseem Shah, Noman Ali, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Saud Shakeel, Shaheen Afridi and Shan Masood
Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne (captain), Nishan Madushka, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Matthews, Dinesh Chandimal, Dhananjaya de Silva, Pathum Nissanka, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Kamindu Mendis, Ramesh Mendis, Prabath Jayasuriya, Praveen Jayawickrama, Kasun Rajitha, Dilshan Madushanka, Vishwa Fernando, Lakshitha Manasinghe
Match officials: Rod Tucker and Alex Wharf (both on-field), Chris Gaffaney (third umpire), David Boon (match referee)