Pakistan will kick-off a full-fledged series against Sri Lanka with the opening Twenty20 in southern Hambantota today, aiming to perfect their combination ahead of the World Twenty20 later this year.
Playing their first Twenty20 international since February and under a new captain, Mohammad Hafeez, the team will also look to erase memories of a disappointing 2-1 Twenty20 loss to England. However, their recent success over Sri Lanka will give the tourists some encouragement but Hafeez was vary of Sri Lanka’s strengths.
“Sri Lanka have always been a tough opponent,” said Hafeez. “They’re playing at home but we are well-prepared despite not having played international cricket recently. The boys have worked really hard on their game in the last few weeks and are confident of doing well.”
The absence of Pakistan players from the IPL could give Sri Lanka the initial advantage on the tour that also includes five One-Day Internationals and three Test matches. Several Sri Lankan stars like Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Lasith Malinga played in the cash-rich Twenty20 event in India that ended last Sunday. But the Pakistanis, who won the 2009 World Twenty20 in England, have been kept out of the IPL after the inaugural edition in 2008 and the rustiness could be on show today.
Pakistan will also take the field with a comparatively newer-looking side than the one against England, with wicket-keeper Shakeel Ansar, left-arm spinner Raza Hasan and batsman Haris Sohail among the uncapped players. Opener Ahmed Shehzad, paceman Mohammad Sami, while batsman Khalid Latif are among those who have earned their places through a good show on the domestic circuit.
Improvement in rankings
Pakistan head coach Dav Whatmore has already eyed a steady improvement in the team’s rankings in all formats and the first step towards a rise will be to win the two-match Twenty20 series against Sri Lanka.
If Pakistan beat Sri Lanka, ranked third, 2-0, they will move up one place to fourth, one ratings point behind New Zealand. A 2-0 loss will see Pakistan drop to seventh.
Jayawardene looks for ‘right combination’
Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka captain will aim to improve on the team’s recent record against Pakistan and fine-tune their skills ahead of the World Twenty20 that they host.
“With the tournament coming up, this series against Pakistan is very important for us,” said Jayawardene. “We’re using these two games to find the right combination so we will mix and match. We need to make a statement in this series.”
The off-spinner, who has 32 wickets in six Tests against Sri Lanka, has already declared his plans to be Pakistan’s trump card once again. With conditions tailor-made for Ajmal, the team will look to the off-spinner to stop the flow of runs and pick up wickets at the same time.
The all-rounder will hope that the added responsibility of leading the team in Twenty20s and being Misbahul Haq’s deputy in the other two formats will bring out the best in him. Backed by impressive performances in recent series, Hafeez can prove to be Pakistan’s most useful player in the series
The Sri Lanka captain has come a long way in transforming the team’s fortune after a string of poor performances under Tillakaratne Dilshan. The right-hander will aim for big scores on slow pitches and help his team turn the tables on Pakistan who won the last time these two faced each other
For a while, Sri Lanka have depended on Muttiah Muralitharan’s spin magic and the ever-dependable Sangakkara to deliver the goods. It will be no different as the left-hander will look to continue his good run against Pakistan, which has already seen him score at 80 runs per innings in 13 Tests
M Jayawardene, T Dilshan, K Sangakkara, D Chandimal, A Mathews, L Thirimanne, K Lokuarachchi, T Perera, N Kulasekera, S Senanayake, L Malinga, C Kapugedera, U Tharanga, I Udana
M Hafeez, K Latif, A Shehzad, S Malik, U Akmal, S Ansar, S Afridi, Y Arafat, U Gul, S Tanvir, S Ajmal, R Hasan, H Sohail, M Sami, H Azam
Published in The Express Tribune, June 1st, 2012.
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