ABU DHABI: Pakistan will step into a new Test era without retired batting greats Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq when they take on Sri Lanka in the first Test in Abu Dhabi from Thursday.
Playing without Younis and Misbah is unaccustomed territory for Pakistan, who haven’t had a Test featuring neither of the talismanic, prolific pair in seven years.
It comes as they prepare to welcome the return of full international cricket to their home country next month, when Sri Lanka visit for a Twenty20 game in Lahore.
Together, Younis and Misbah have appeared in 193 Tests, accumulating 15,331 runs, 44 centuries and 15 century stands between them, briefly lifting the team to the top of the Test rankings in August last year.
They have dominated the batting at Pakistan’s venues in United Arab Emirates (UAE), where they have been forced to play home games since a deadly terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore in 2009.
The pair made Pakistan so invincible that they have not lost any of the nine series they have played in UAE, with new captain Sarfraz Ahmed vowing to implement what they learnt from the two greats.
“Their contributions are immense,” admits Ahmed. “But we have to move on and implement what we have learnt from Misbah and Younis in the last seven years.”
Experienced batsman Azhar Ali will move down to his customary number three after opening the innings since last year.
“We will use two openers, then Ali will bat at three followed by Asad Shafiq, so we have players who can handle the batting,” said Ahmed.
Younis is not only Pakistan’s highest Test runs scorer, with 10,099, but the slips fielding specialist also holds the national record of 139 catches in 118 Tests.
Misbah’s calm influence as a batsman, as well as skipper, will also be tough to replace.
Sri Lanka fightback –
Ali was in doubt for the first Test after suffering a knee injury but he has since responded well to treatment, while Yasir Shah will lead the spin attack in a squad with five fast bowlers.
Shah, who took 24 wickets in Pakistan’s 2-1 series win in Sri Lanka two years ago, will be assisted by uncapped spinners Mohammad Asghar and Bilal Asif.
Sri Lanka, who lost 3-0 at home to India last month, will be looking to right the ship after a torrid run of results which has had the media and fans on their back.
But they will be without their key all-rounder and former captain Angelo Mathews, who has been ruled out of the first Test with a calf strain.
Skipper Dinesh Chandimal believes his team will have to be at their best to beat Pakistan, despite the lack of their two long serving players.
“Younis and Misbah were great players so we can have advantage they not being there, but still we need to step up in our performance,” said Chandimal.
Sri Lanka will be buoyed by the return of their pace spearheads Nuwan Pradeep and Suranga Lakmal, who suffered injuries last month.
But their main hope of winning the two-match series looks likely to hinge
on veteran left-arm spinner Rangana Herath, who has 90 wickets in 19 Tests against Pakistan.
Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed (capt), Azhar Ali, Shan Masood, Sami Aslam, Babar
Azam, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Usman Salahuddin, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Asghar,
Bilal Asif, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Abbas, Wahab Riaz
Sri Lanka: Dinesh Chandimal (capt), Lahiru Thirimanne (vice-capt), Dimuth
Karunaratne, Kaushal Silva, Kusal Mendis, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Roshen Silva,
Niroshan Dickwella, Rangana Herath, Lakshan Sandakan, Dilruwan Perera, Suranga
Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep, Vishwa Fernando, Lahiru Gamage
Umpires: Ian Gould (ENG) and Nigel Llong (ENG)
Tv umpire: Richard Kettleborough (ENG)
ICC match referee: Andy Pycroft (ZIM)