First Test preview: Pakistan v Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka need to get out of their rut in Abu Dhabi and move on from the Muttiah Muralitharan era but they will be up against a confident Pakistan side.
Here's a quick question for the stats gurus: when last did Sri Lanka win a Test a match? No need to rack your brains, here's the answer: it was July 2010 against India in Galle.
At first glance it's not such an earth-shattering stat, but a closer look at their recent results reveals that over the past two years Sri Lanka have played 15, won one, lost five and drawn nine. What is even more interesting is that win over India was also Muttiah Muralitharan's last Test before his retirement. Since then they've played 11 games, lost three and drawn eight.
It is quite clear that Sri Lanka have not moved on from Muralitharan just yet. The tour of the United Arab Emirates will give them another opportunity to do just that. They head into the series with a new coach in Geoff Marsh and a relatively new leadership team, with Tillakaratne Dilshan and Angelo Mathews at the helm.
Crucially, though, they can still call on the experience of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Prasanna Jayawardene in the squad, while Rangana Herath proved that there is life after Muralitharan with 16 wickets in two matches against Australia in September.
The pitch in Abu Dhabi will give their players plenty of opportunity to get the big scores, which have been eluding them in recent months, while the likes of Herath and Suraj Randiv will be tested mentally and physically on a track that could deliver plenty of runs.
Pakistan have played three more Tests than their opponents over the same period and instinct suggests they probably have a similar record to Sri Lanka, but that is not the case. They have won six, lost nine and drawn four and some of those wins came against Australia, England and New Zealand.
Pakistan may not be the formidable outfit that they were during the 1980s and early 90s but they are a solid team. Nothing flashy, but a team that is actually willing to work. Younis Khan isn't the player he once was and his sidekick Mohammad Yousuf is no longer part of the set-up, but they do have Mohammad Hafeez, who is turning into a competent all-rounder, and Azhar Ali in the batting line-up.
Younis and captain Misbah-ul-Haq are likely to be the glue in the batting line-up, with the rest allowed to bat around them. On the bowling front, Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman have not played too many Tests between them but they are wily spinners. The problem for both teams – and chances of a result other than a draw – is that the batsmen on both sides are very accomplished against spinners.
Pakistan will no doubt head into the match with a bit more confidence than the Sri Lanka players, but both teams will need some 'help' from the groundsman at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium if the game is to be an interesting one. A total of 1,374 runs were scored across five days when the Abu Dhabi venue hosted its one and only Test thus far – Pakistan versus South Africa in November 2010. Let's hope we don't see a repeat of that.
<B>Key Men<br>Pakistan:</B> <b>Mohammad Hafeez</b> had a good tour of Zimbabwe and starred in both the ODIs and one-off Test. It's not just his batting that has improved as his bowling has come on in leaps and bounds. He could play an important role with the ball as well.
<B>Sri Lanka:</B> With 16 wickets in two Tests against Australia on home soil in September, <b>Rangana Herath</b> will be the man that Dilshan looks to on the dusty pitches in the UAE. If he can replicate his form in Abu Dhabi then we might not have a run-feast and Sri Lanka could claim that elusive Test win.
<B>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</B><Br>July 2009, Third Test at SSC: Match drawn<Br>July 2009, Second Test at PSS: Sri Lanka won by seven wickets<br>July 2009, First Test at Galle: Sri Lanka won by 50 runs<br>March 2009, Second Test at Lahore: Match drawn<br>February 2009, First Test at Karachi: Match drawn
<b>Prediction</b><Br>It is difficult to predict anything other than a draw if you read up on the Sheikh Zayed Stadium pitch. Hopefully there will be a couple of silly shots and a batting collapse or two to make things interesting.
Online betting firm <a href='http://First Test preview: Pakistan v Sri Lanka' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>Sky Bet</b></a> have unsurprisingly gone for a draw as the most likely result in the opening Test. Visit Sky Bet for the latest <a href='http://First Test preview: Pakistan v Sri Lanka' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>cricket betting</B></a>.
<b>Probable Teams</b><br><I>Pakistan:</i> Mohammad Hafeez, Taufeeq Umar, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq, Misbah-ul-Haq, Adnan Akmal, Saeed Ajmal, Umar Gul, Abdur Rehman, Aizaz Cheema.
<i>Sri Lanka:</i> Tharanga Paranavitana, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Angelo Mathews, Prasanna Jayawardene, Shimanda Eranga, Rangana Herath, Chanaka Welegedera, Suraj Randiv.
<B>Dates:</B> 18 to 22 October<BR><B>Morning session:</B> 10:00-12:00 (06:00-08:00 GMT)<br><b>Afternoon session:</b> 12:40-14:40 (08:40-10:40 GMT)<br><b>Evening session:</b> 15:00-17:00 (11:00-13:00 GMT)
<B>On-field umpires:</b><BR>Rod Tucker and Tony Hill<Br><b>Third umpire:</b> PCB appointment<Br>Match referee: David Boon
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