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Cricket news - Pakistan need their guard up in Test cricket's emotional return

As much as this Test is about an emotional return for Pakistan, it will also be about what they can do

As much as this Test is about an emotional return for Pakistan, it will also be about what they can do

A narrative tapestry of the kind this series presents doesn't come about every day. Test cricket in Pakistan certainly doesn't come about every day. So it's easy to get caught up in the moment. Not just for the fans, but for Pakistan's players too. The successful conduct of the limited-overs rubber against Sri Lanka in Karachi - a couple of months back - paved the way for their return, this time in whites, more than 10 years after a Sri Lankan team was attacked.

But as much as this occasion is about all of that, it's also about what Pakistan do on the day. It's about their onfield performance, which was absolutely woeful in Australia. Not only did it sour the start of Azhar Ali's captaincy reign, but it also got their WTC campaign off on the wrong foot. Which is why, first and foremost, the two-match series starting tomorrow in Rawalpindi is a chance to set that right.

More than anything, it's Pakistan's bowling that'll need to recover from the assault at the hands of some ruthless Australian batsmen at home. But that can happen - not least to young seamers starting their careers. While it may have diminished the hype around them, there's no denying the potential. And they might find some joy from the pitch if Rawalpindi carries forward its tradition of being one of the most seamer-friendly venues in the country.

In retrospect, the goodwill around the occasion will only help to flush out some of the negativity, which - make no mistake - was in abundance, right from team selections to performances Down Under.

Talking of negativity, there's Sri Lanka who've had a fair share of that in their cricketing setup recently. Anyway, the visitors bring with them a lot of unpredictability. They've gone from losing abjectly in New Zealand and Australia, to beating South Africa in South Africa, and then to holding New Zealand to a draw at home - all within a year's time.

What Sri Lanka also bring with them is a full-strength squad, unlike the limited-overs tour earlier, as well as Pakistan's former coach Mickey Arthur who was sacked after a disappointing World Cup. That's definitely a score to settle there.

With all the things going around it, what happens on the cricket field is anybody's guess. But whether it adds to the many, many memorable performances in the venue's highlights reel - Damien Fleming's hat-trick on debut, Mohammad Zahid's 11-wicket haul, Rahul Dravid's 270 to name a few - or not, it'll have been worth it.

When: Pakistan vs Sri Lanka, 1st Test, 11th December, 2019 (10am local),

Where: Rawalpindi

What to expect: There's some rain forecast, particularly on days two and three, and the match might be played under overcast conditions for significant periods. Expect the seamers to be in play on a pitch that's already expected to help them.

Team News:

Pakistan

Hasan Ali misses out with a rib fracture, having missed the Australia Tests too. Usman Shinwari, yet to make his debut, finds himself in the squad in place of Mohammad Musa, but might have to wait given the other options the hosts possess. Pakistan have also recalled Fawad Alam after 10 years, and it remains to be seen where he fits in.

Sri Lanka

While the visitors carried a greatly depleted squad for the limited-overs affair, with as many as 10 regulars missing, their Test squad is a near full-strength one, although Suranga Lakmal is out with dengue. Also, Kasun Rajitha has been picked to replace the suspended Akila Dananjaya.

Did you know:

- Pakistan are currently on a six-match losing streak - their joint worst. They lost six in a row in the 2016/17 season as well

- Pakistan last beat Sri Lanka in a home series (excluding UAE) in 1991/92. In the four further series in Pakistan, SL won two with two ending in draws

- If Fawad Alam makes it to the final XI, his 84 Tests missed between two Test appearances will be the second most for a Pakistan player after Younis Ahmed's 104 missed Tests between 1969 & 1987

What they said:

"All the players are very emotional about this Test series. It is great to be back to our home grounds and I just hope that Test cricket returns regularly to Pakistan now" - Azhar Ali, Pakistan captain.

Squads:

Pakistan: Shan Masood, Imam-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali(c), Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Rizwan(w), Yasir Shah, Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Abbas, Fawad Alam, Imran Khan, Usman Shinwari, Kashif Bhatti, Abid Ali, Naseem Shah

Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne(c), Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Kusal Perera, Dhananjaya de Silva, Niroshan Dickwella(w), Dilruwan Perera, Lasith Embuldeniya, Lahiru Kumara, Vishwa Fernando, Dinesh Chandimal, Kasun Rajitha, Asitha Fernando, Oshada Fernando, Lakshan Sandakan

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