Among the bowlers in the Pakistan squad, Danish Kaneria has been the most successful bowler in Tests against Sri Lanka© AFP
It might just be a two-Test series but it will be of significant importance for both teams. Pakistan, playing their first Test in over 14 months, have experienced a serious dearth of cricket in the country owing to security reasons, and will be led by a man given his third shot at the captaincy. Sri Lanka will be captained for the last time by their most successful leader ever and will try to give him a befitting farewell.
It's not just a simple matter of pitting skills against each other, but finding a state of mind to approach the future. The preparation showed that. Pakistan closeted themselves in an isolation camp while preparing for the series - no outsiders were allowed, the players strived to spend some quality time together and shy players were encouraged to open up; even the former captain Shoaib Malik, it's said, mixed around with his team-mates.
By announcing his resignation early, to the surprise of many in the team, Mahela Jayawardene has allowed his team-mates to regroup for one final campaign under him. In recent times, they have wandered across continents, looking increasingly jaded on the field. The announcement by Jayawardene might help them to shirk their mental weariness and regroup with purpose. If they can do that, the task for the next captain, widely expected to be Kumar Sangakkara, would be easy.
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Tharanga Paranavitana: Sri Lanka are desperately looking for an opener who can be consistent and Paranavitana, who replaced the out-of-form Michael Vandort in the squad, is almost certain to debut. With 893 runs at 74.41 and 621 at 51.75 in the last two editions of Sri Lanka's domestic first-class competitions, he is the one for the future.
Shoaib Malik: The 'former captain' is a label that either pushes people on a downward spiral or charges them to prove a point. Younis apart, Malik will be the man that Pakistan will watch eagerly. The captaincy exit could open the door for Malik the player to really assert himself. No more tough press conferences to attend, no more bickering about his 'aloofness', nothing else to do but play cricket. He might just thrive. He will take heart from the past. He averages 66.50 from four Tests against Sri Lanka.
Pakistan have already picked their 12. Asim Kamal, recalled out of the wilderness, Fawad Alam and Ahmed Shahzad have been cut. Younis has said he would not like to go in with makeshift openers, which means Salman Butt should be partnered by the debutant Khurram Manzoor, who has played seven ODIs. Younis has expressed faith in allrounder Yasir Arafat's skills so Pakistan will probably decide on one of either rookie, Mohammad Talha, with 34 wickets from six first-class games, or Sohail Khan.
Pakistan: (likely) 1 Salman Butt, 2 Khurram Manzoor, 3 Younis Khan (capt), 4 Shoaib Malik, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq, 6 Faisal Iqbal, 7 Kamran Akmal (wk), 8 Yasir Arafat, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Danish Kaneria, 11 Mohammad Talha/Sohail Khan.
Jayawardene was pretty certain of Sri Lanka's batting composition - Paranavitana, who scored 621 runs with three centuries at an average of 51.75 this season, should open - but said the bowling needed some more thinking. Chaminda Vaas is almost certain to come back and take up the attack, but his new-ball partner remains uncertain. Dilhara Fernando and Thilan Thushara haven't been at their best recently, and the third option is Farveez Maharoof, who doesn't bowl at much pace. Fernando and Thushara are quicker but Maharoof's batting would be handy. It's a tough call for the management.
Sri Lanka: (likely) 1 Malinda Warnapura, 2 Tharanga Paranativana, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 7 Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), 8 Chaminda Vaas, 10 Farveez Maharoof, 10 Muttiah Muralitharan, 11 Ajantha Mendis.
Pitch & conditions
Younis said that he had instructed the curator to make a pitch which is suitable for Test cricket. "There should be some life for both batsmen and bowlers," Younis said. Sri Lanka's captain Jayawardene felt the pitch looked like a good batting track.