KARACHI: Pakistan and Sri Lanka are now left with everything to play for in the Karachi Test, which begins here from Thursday, after last week’s rain-affected encounter in Rawalpindi. The Karachi Test will also be the deciding fixture of the ICC World Test Championship as the National Stadium prepares to host its first five-day match after a gap of 10 years and nine months.
It is only fitting that Sri Lanka is the opponents in the Test to be played in Pakistan’s most populous city of Karachi where the current spell of weather is pleasant and a far cry from the really chilly conditions that one experienced at the Pindi Cricket Stadium in the series opener. No less than 528 minutes of playing time amounting to 268.1 overs — out of a mandatory quota of 450 possible overs — were lost to rain, bad light, and wet conditions.
The cricket enthusiasts in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad and the adjacent areas were deeply disappointed at being denied the chance to enjoy the historic return of Test cricket to the country for the first time since March 2009.
And although the landmark occasion was reduced to a farce, the high spirits of the last-day crowd was sensational as they first saw Dhananjaya de Silva finally complete a thoroughly deserved sixth Test hundred before Abid Ali penned down a new chapter in international cricket by becoming the first player to start both his ODI and Test career with a three-figure knock.
The 32-year-old opener followed up 112 versus Australia the one-dayer in Dubai by making an unbeaten 109. If that was undoubtedly the defining moment of the Rawalpindi Test, Babar Azam underlined his reputation as a high-class batsman by nonchalantly stroking his way to 102 not out.
Pakistan may boast an outstanding track record in the Tests at the National Stadium — which was once regarded as a fortress for the host nation from 1955 to 1999 — until England sealed an unlikely six-wicket win in the dark of December 2000, but times have certainly changed and so has Pakistan’s fortunes in the intervening years.
The only other defeat suffered by Pakistan was against South Africa, who emerged winners by 160 runs in October 2007, but overall, the hosts have been victorious in 21 out of 41 Tests staged at this famous arena in the heart of the country’s commercial capital.
The statistics can be misleading over a period of time but the Pakistanis do have a proud history against their Sri Lankan counterparts. In Sri Lanka’s maiden overseas Test in March of 1982, Pakistan won hands down by 204 runs. The next three encounters against the islanders were all won by Pakistan —by 10 wickets in November 1985, 222 runs in March 2000 and six wickets in October 2004.
The only draw between these teams at this venue was a statisticians’ delight during the first match of the ill-fated 2009 rubber in February. The bat overwhelmingly dominated the ball. Double tons in by skipper Mahela Jayawardene (240) and Thilan Samaraweera (231) powered Sri Lanka to 644-7 declared with the fourth-wicket pair sharing the highest partnership of 437 — best for any wicket at the National Stadium.
The rest of the match was chiefly referred to as the Younis Khan Test. The Pakistan captain came to bat towards the end of day two and wasn’t dislodged until the final morning when seamer Dilhara Fernando found enough gap to hit the off stump, but not before Younis had scored a colossal 313 from 568 deliveries during a marathon stay of 12 hours and 40 minutes, while Pakistan amassed 765-6 declared — both record feats at the venue.
Coming into the coming match, Sri Lanka has all but made their minds. Slow left-armer Lasith Embuldeniya replacing the injured paceman Kasun Rajitha, whose workload in the first Test was curtailed to just six overs and the wicket of Shan Masood with a full toss, as Dimuth Karunaratne reckons the pitch would dry out once the game goes while predicting appreciable turn from the third day.
With Embuldeniya joining the veteran off-spinner Dilruwan Perera – who delivered 24 wicketless overs for 85 runs in Rawalpindi — and all-rounder de Silva, Sri Lanka will bank on just two-seamers in Vishwa Fernando and the strapping Lahiru Kumara.
Meanwhile, Pakistan is certain to include the experienced but struggling Yasir Shah back in the XI after the leg-spinner spent a few days at the NCA in Lahore where he underwent some sessions under the guidance of ex-Pakistan star Mushtaq Ahmed.
The main concern for Pakistan is Yasir’s lack of wickets this season on a consistent basis. He had a harrowing time against Australia with a bag of only four wickets at 100.50, across the two Tests in Brisbane and Adelaide.
And with Yasir coming into the playing XI in place of the paceman Usman Khan Shinwari, who has contracted typhoid after his test reports came in on Wednesday morning, both Misbah-ul-Haq and Azhar Ali hinted at retaining the same batting unit. That means Fawad Alam’s long-awaited appearance in his hometown Test has to take a backseat once again.
The prevailing conditions are such that the captain winning the toss would be looking for a total at least in the vicinity of 400-plus to put the other side under pressure with play guaranteed on all five days under clear skies. Pakistan is aiming to pick their first lot of 60 points — which are at stake for a series of two Tests — after both sides bagged 20 points apiece from the soggy battle last week.
PAKISTAN (from): Shan Masood, Abid Ali, Azhar Ali (captain), Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Rizwan, Yasir Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammad Abbas, Nasim Shah, Fawad Alam, Imran Khan, Kashif Bhatti, Imam-ul-Haq.
SRI LANKA (likely): Dimuth Karunaratne (captain), Oshada Fernando, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Dhananjaya de Silva, Niroshan Dickwella, Dilruwan Perera, Vishwa Fernando, Lahiru Kumara, Lasith Embuldeniya.
Umpires: Brue Oxenford (Australia) and Joel Wilson (West Indies). TV umpire: Gregory Brathwaite (West Indies).
Match referee: Jeff Crowe (New Zealand).