Hosts Sri Lanka hope to give retiring former captain Mahela Jayawardene a winning farewell when they take on Pakistan for a sixth Test series in as many years from Wednesday.
The elegant right-hander, sixth in the all-time scorers’ list with 11,671 runs in 147 Tests since his debut in 1997, is due to quit the longer format after the series.
Jayawardene, 37, who retired from T20 internationals after Sri Lanka’s title-winning campaign in the World T20 in April, still hopes to compete in next year’s one-day World Cup Down Under.
But he will be remembered most for his exploits in Test cricket, where he averages a commendable 50.09 — with a monumental 374 against South Africa in 2006, the best of his 34 centuries.
Jayawardene starts the two-Test series against Pakistan just six runs ahead of his close friend and long-time teammate Kumar Sangakkara’s tally of 11,665 runs as Sri Lanka’s leading Test batsman.
Sri Lanka’s captain Angelo Mathews, while admitting Jayawardene’s retirement will “leave a big hole to fill”, hoped the occasion will not distract his team from the goals ahead.
“We need to win the series both for him as well as the future of Sri Lankan cricket,” said Mathews. “The task ahead is clear in our minds.”
Sri Lanka’s winning streak this year, when they won the Asia Cup one-day tournament, the World Twenty20 and the Test series in England, was broken by the 1-0 Test loss to South Africa at home last month.
The Proteas, led for the first time by Hashim Amla, won the Galle Test by 153 runs and then hung on bravely for a draw at the SSC to overtake Australia as the number one Test side.
Pakistan looking for first win since 2012
Sixth-ranked Sri Lanka have defeated number three Pakistan in two of their last five series since 2009, losing just once. Two series were drawn including the most recent one in January in the UAE.
The upcoming matches, which are not part of the Future Tours Programme, were finalised at Pakistan’s request since Misbahul Haq’s men faced a barren period from January to October.
Pakistan, looking for their first series win since defeating England in the UAE in 2012, have recalled fast-bowling great Waqar Younis as head coach, with Zimbabwean Grant Flower as batting coach.
Spin is expected to dominate, with Pakistan boasting the prolific Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman, and the hosts banking on the trusted duo of Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera.
“Spin usually has a big say in Sri Lanka and I don’t think it will be any different this time,” said Misbah. “We have the resources to win, but need to be at our best.”
Pakistan must win the series to maintain its hold on third position, while Sri Lanka could drop a place to seventh in such a scenario. A series loss by any margin will mean that Pakistan would drop to sixth.
The Test series, which ends on August 18, will be followed by three ODIs.
In late developments, Sri Lanka’s fast-bowler Suranga Lakmal will be unable to take part in the Test series due to a swollen ankle.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2014.
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