PAKISTAN skipper Azhar Ali said he wants the return of Test cricket to the country to be a memorable one as his team seeks victory over Sri Lanka in Karachi starting Thursday. Their series is the first in Pakistan since a militant attack on the Sri Lankan team bus killed eight people in March 2009, leading to the suspension of international cricket in the country as foreign sides refused to visit over security fears. The return of Test cricket to Pakistan last week was something of a washout, with their first encounter badly hit by the weather in Rawalpindi before stuttering to a tame draw. After 10 years playing away, Azhar said Pakistan desperately wanted to make the most of playing at home.
“We are playing a home series and need to capitalise on that home advantage,” he told reporters. “We want to win this series and make the occasion memorable.” Despite the Rawalpindi washout, Pakistan gained a psychological edge against the Sri Lankans with Abid Ali and Babar Azam notching hundreds to steer their team to 252-2 in reply to Sri Lanka’s 308-6 declared. It was extra special for Abid, who became the first batsman to follow a one-day debut century -- against Australia in Dubai in March this year -- with a hundred in his first Test. Pakistan will likely make one change from the first Test, with leg-spinner Yasir Shah replacing fast bowler Usman Shinwari, who has been ruled out with typhoid.
Azhar will also hope to regain his own batting form, having managed just 36 at Rawalpindi following his miserable 62 in four innings in Australia and 59 in six innings in South Africa earlier this year. Sri Lanka are aiming to spoil Pakistan’s homecoming following a string of strong performances. Earlier this year, they became the first Asian team to win a Test series in South Africa (2-0) before drawing 1-1 at home against New Zealand. Skipper Dimuth Karunaratne said the team is looking to continue their winning ways as part of the World Test championship.
“We look forward to giving good competition to Pakistan, but know that it will be tough to beat them,” he said. The visitors will be without their pace spearhead Kasun Rajitha, who pulled a hamstring during the Rawalpindi Test and is likely to be replaced by uncapped fast bowler Asitha Fernando. The Sri Lankans are in third place on the Test championship table with 80 points. World number one India sit atop the nine-team table with 360 points while Australia are second with 216. Pakistan -- currently sixth -- lost 2-0 to Australia recently, but got 20 points from last week’s draw in Rawalpindi. Launched in August, the championship involves the top nine Test teams in the world. The top two will contest the final at Lord’s in June 2021.