Monday, October 3, 2011

Pakistan V Sri Lanka Test Series Preview

Sri Lanka have not won a single test in their last 9 played whereas the green shirts have won 4 in the same period of time. Sri Lanka have had 7 draws in that period of time, however they have lost 2 series during the process against England away and playing host to Australia at home which concluded on the 20th of September. Both teams have only lost 2 in their last 9 and drawn a series against the West Indies during the year. Dilshan and Misbah both have led their side for only 12 tests between them. Sri Lanka have a higher standing on the rankings, but Pakistan go into this series as the more in form and prepared with an undefeated record in their last 4 test series and back to back wins currently for the first time since 2005. In 37 tests against Pakistan Sri Lanka have won the 9 with 13 draws. The last time these two sides met in a test series was in the summer of 2009 where Sri Lanka won 2/0 in a 3 match series. Earlier during the same year Pakistan's home hosted series was interrupted as a result of the terrorist attacks.

Sri Lanka’s bowling attack has struggled to take 20 wickets since the retirement of the off spinning champion Murali and swing expert Chaminda Vaas. The lethal Yorker machine Lasith Malinga has retired from the 5 day game and therefore is not an option. Herath has 100 test scalps under his belt from 29 tests at a very tidy economy rate. He will be the key man they will need to look out for. He is accurate and extracts a fair deal of drift as well as getting a few to kick and skid on. He has a round arm action from wide of the crease and angles the ball into the right handers. He gets a high amount of LBWs and many times batsmen play for the spin when really he’s more of a roller if anything. It should be an interesting matchup between him and Pak’s SLA Abdur Rehman who is another wily old fox with an impressive track record with 40 wickets in 8 tests. His repetitiveness to bowl a nagging line and length is formidable. He is a real workhorse who applies the pressure, racks up the maidens and entices mistakes from the batsmen. He ties them down with his control and perseverance. Meanwhile the danger man will be Saeed Ajmal who is Paks leading wicket taker this year across all formats. The unorthodox finger spinner will be in business against the Sri Lankans with all the left handers they have in their team. Ajmal has had some flat tough days with the ball in the 5 day game, but other times he has run through sides single handily. Overall he has over 50 wickets in less than 15 tests including an 11 wicket haul this year and is beginning to develop a reputation as a test bowler which some had raised doubts about previously. There will be a lot of pressure and expectation on him as the strike weapon and this series should provide a good test of his skill and character against his Asian rivals. His brilliantly disguised and executed doosra has the potential to bamboozle one and all. He is ably supported by a good set of bat pads in Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq who aren’t fussed about doing the gritty chores and demonstrating their reflexes. His captain was the one who recommended him for selection back in 2008 and knows how to use him well and extract the best out of him. Ajmal and Rehman bowling in tandem should be an intriguing contest.

In the pace department the 2011 world semi finalists have the upper hand. Gul is a senior bowler who when in form is unstoppable with his pace, aggression and ability to bowl the heavy ball. The grade A centrally contracted quickie has had a mixed year. He claimed 13 scalps at an average of 20 in New Zealand and in each and every innings claimed at least a 3 for during the successful tour which gave the tourists their first series win in over 4 years. He was named in the ODI team of the year and during the group stage campaign in Sri Lanka had 13 wickets from 6 outings including 3 consecutive 3 fors against New Zealand, Zimbabwe and Australia within a fortnight. Wahab Riaz who one of the nominees for emerging player of the year will have a key part to play with his reverse swing as well as the strength and depth he adds with the batting. He has potential to transform into an all rounder and he himself has voiced aspirations of doing so. Aizaz Cheema had a dream debut in Zimbabwe where he claimed the 2nd best figures by a Pak bowler in his debut match with his 8 wicket match tally in Bulawayo. Although the pitches in the UAE will inevitably provide limited assistance, Pak bowlers have the edge over the inexperienced and largely ineffective up to now Sri Lankan new comers.

The batting is looking solid, dependable, settled, stable, in form, determined and responsible which is heavily refreshing. They are really demonstrating a great deal of guts, grit, patience, heart, application, mental toughness, concentration, sound temperament, strong defence/judgement and a better technical basis to work from. Slow and steady is doing the trick as opposed to playing rash shots and subsequently brain farts. There is a sense of resilience, pride, willingness, sheer hard work and fighting spirit to get the results as opposed to the exaggerated flair and stylishness, but inconsistency with the liability of collapsing like a pack of domino cards and the bowlers continuously being called to come to do the rescue job. In the last 11 test innings since Misbah took over scores of 340 have been posted on 6 occasions. The captain has led the way and set the example with others following suit. They have only lost 101 out of a potential 140 wickets. They have only been bowled out once in the 2nd innings since he has taken over which was on a really tough wicket to survive. The can now reliably bat out for 125+ overs and post scores in excess of 330 odd with regularity. They are looking better and stronger the more they are playing. A classical old style method is doing wonders. 4 solid sessions of batting can be counted to be played out. They can make the opponents sweat, frustrated and simply tire them out with their attitude. Structured, watchful and composed in their works even if this means they go in to their shells at times and take their time before coming to terms with proceedings, but in that time not losing their scalps and therefore really getting to the bowlers in the mind from where scoring becomes a formality. They play controlled shots, squeeze or nudge the odd single here and there, eliminate risk attached completely, bat for long periods of time and show they are true test contenders who mean business and are prepared to work hard and dig deep. On helpful batting surfaces they know full well to how to make the most out of it which is a skill in itself. Complacency is never a safe option. Sri Lankan bowlers could have some testing days in the field against this significantly improved Pakistan test batting outfit which is up there with the best I have seen over the last decade in terms of getting the results. The beauty about it is there is a nice blend of experience and youth. There are a lot of players from the similar mould, but this is what is required.

Azhar Ali who was one of the nominees for emerging player of the year has been a revelation at the one down position with his solid technique and temperament. He has played every single match in Pakistan’s last 6 test series with only 1 series loss and has consistently been knocking on the doors with match winning and match saving half centuries. He holds the innings together, grinds out and closes an end. Such a treat to watch, for proper test cricket appreciators. Plays the ball on its merit with exceptional patience, concentration and stamina. Yet to register 3 figures, but with his attitude and maturity surely this will only be around the corner for someone who is a rare species in modern day Pak cricket. One to be groomed as vice captain. A regular in the side, who has impressed with his contributions, refrained from getting into any mess at all, has captaincy experience and comes across as a responsible and settled operator. He is bound to go far. A Dravidsque approach, he surely will be one key rock wall to dislodge in the years to proceed. Flawless, thoroughly controlled, steady and continuously growing in confidence of his ability and game plan in simple terms. I would rate him as our best young batsmen.

Younis Khan is one of the 3 Pakistanis who has scored a triple century which came against Sri Lanka in 2009. As the most capped player in the side a lot will be expected of him. You usually associate fighting spirit and a brave heart with him. As an accomplished player of spin he'll fancy his chances to perform. Currently Pakistan have not lost a test since he resurrected his career after being banned indefinitely following the winless tour of Australia in 2009/10. Moreover, he has 3 consecutive ODI half centuries so seems to be in good touch. With an average of over 50 in 24 innings against Sri Lanka the former Pakistan captain will be one to watch.

Pakistan have successfully maintained the same opening combination for 4 consecutive series which is some kind of modern day record as Pakistan have struggled to produce a reliable opening pair since the days of Anwar and Sohail and tried endless combinations ever since. Both Hafeez and Taufeeq have scored match winning centuries in their last 3 innings. Taufeeq is a solid batsmen who takes his time and sees off the new ball. He is strong off his legs, plays a superb straight drive and has some aggression in those hard struck drives. Hafeez gets after the bowling and scores at a quick speed. His technique is sound, but tends to lose his temperament at times with an inability to control his instincts. This tends to bring his downfall.

Pakistan's test fielding unit nowadays is also vastly improved with very few weak links or donkeys as Nasser would say. Taufeeq is a capable slipper and tremendous outfielder. Misbah and Younis are both have superhuman fitness levels for their respective ages. It's hard to keep them out of the action when it comes to the catching. Asad Shafiq is sharp and alert. Hafeez is switched on. Furthermore, they don't have a shoddy keeper to daunt them behind the stumps. Adnan Akmal is tidy and the best keeper in his household. He's hardly put a foot wrong behind the stumps. On flat wickets where limited opportunities will be presented Pakistan can be rest assured their fielding shall not let them down. They should be able to capitalise and capitalise well. On such wickets dropping catches is unaffordable.

In conclusion, Pakistan should not lose this series and more specifically should not lose even a test match during the process. They have the potential to come out on top, but priority should be not to lose. They cannot afford carelessness or complacency. I back Pakistan to come out victorious with a 1-0 scorecard. For the sake of cricket fans around the globe, I hope to see a result orientated pitch at one of the venues.

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