On July 16, Sri Lanka played the first of two Tests against Pakistan in Galle, with the second Test starting on the 24th, also in Galle. That statement is true in 2022 and 2023.
It is not clear why the series has been set up to exactly mirror Pakistan’s tour of Sri Lanka last year, but it does provide an opportunity to assess each team’s progress over the 12 months. Despite mixed results over the past 12 months, Sri Lanka start as clear favorites primarily due to familiarity with the conditions; Six of the hosts’ last eight Test matches have come at this venue, four of which they have won. A relatively settled Test team, Sri Lanka, who acknowledge their best red-ball team, challenged New Zealand in the only Test series they played, falling by two wickets in the first and succumbing in the second.
They are coming off pitch-perfect recent form – albeit in a different format. Having beaten all before them in Zimbabwe, winning all eight games and lifting the trophy, Sri Lanka booked the tournament in style, making up for the humiliation of being forced to qualify for the World Cup in India. They were bolstered by the return of Dimuth Karunaratne, who missed the final of that match with a hamstring injury. With two centuries and four fifties in his last seven Test innings, the availability of the world’s best opener in the last five years is welcome against an opening attack that includes Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah.
Add to this the quality in Sri Lanka’s spinning ranks – an area where Pakistan has been particularly lacking recently – and their invincibility is further cemented. Prabat Jayasuriya and Ramesh Mendis were Pakistan’s chief tormentors on the dramatic final day of the series last year and should play key roles. Meanwhile, Pakistan have struggled to adequately replace Yasir Shah, with Sajid Khan and Nauman Ali – the two they have turned to regularly – struggling to make a similar impact. Abrar Ahmed, who was impressive against England, will get another run in the series, but Mohammad Nawaz and Salman Ali Agha are expected to have significant bowling duties if Galle’s surfaces live up to their gripping reputation.
But Sri Lanka can throw Pakistan’s underdog status at them from their own track record. They have not won a Test since the same match in Galle 12 months ago, their only win in 2022. Since the start of last year, Babar Azam’s team has won only once in ten matches. , lost five of the other nine. A shaky top order will be tested once again in Sri Lanka, and Sarfaraz Ahmed, who retains his place as wicketkeeper, will need to back up recent excellent batting performances capable of using the gloves on testing surfaces.
Sri Lanka WWLLW (last five matches completed, most recent first) Pakistan D.D.L.L.L
Spotlight: Prabat Jayasuriya and Shaheen Afridi
In five Test matches at Galle, Prabat Jayasuriya 46 wickets with six five fours and ten wickets in two matches. That included 17 wickets in two Test matches against Pakistan last year, when he dismissed Pakistan after lunch on the final day of the series to draw 1-1. Another world-class spinner from the Sri Lankan production line, the slow left-armer was adjudged Player of the Series and will be one of the visitors’ key opponents this time around. Whether they learn to deal with him could go a long way in determining the destination of the series trophy.
You don’t have to look to the past Shaheen Afridi For Pakistan, Galle carries all the baggage for him at this time of the year. Playing his first Test since suffering a nasty injury in the same Test last year, all eyes will be on his pace, rhythm and ability to cope with the long break from the five-day format. The surface is more likely to suit spin, and whether Afridi maintains his bowling pace – something he has doubted recently – could be a bellwether for his red-ball future. With Pakistan likely to field only two fast bowlers, Babar’s management of Shaheen’s workload will also come under scrutiny, with in-game management being an area where the Pakistan captain has struggled in the past.
If Karunaratne is available, he will lead the team as captain and opener, with Nishan Madushka Pathum likely to replace Nissanka as his opening partner. Left-arm fast bowler Dilshan Madhushanka is in line for a Test debut, while Sri Lanka are spoiled for spin choices.
Pakistan are likely to go with an extra spinner all-rounder and sacrifice a seamer in the process of bringing Nawaz into the frame.
Pakistan (Probable): 1 Abdullah Shafiq, 2 Imam-ul-Haq, 3 Shan Masood, 4 Babar Azam (capt), 5 Sarfaraz Ahmed (UK), 6 Saud Shakeel, 7 Agha Salman, 8 Mohammad Nawaz, 9 Naseem Shah, 10 Abrar Ahmed , 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi
Rain is in the forecast for every day of the Test, although persistent wet weather is unlikely and Sri Lanka’s world-beating ground staff must ensure delays are kept to a minimum. The wickets are likely to be slow and spin-friendly.
“Injuries are a part of an athlete’s life, but it’s good to come back. I’m enjoying red-ball cricket a lot and I’m one wicket away from a century of Test wickets, which will be a big achievement for me” Shaheen Afridi tries to make a comeback after a year away from red-ball cricket.