Pakistan vs Sri Lanka: First Test Preview

Batsman faces bowler in front of packed cordon

Mickey Arthur will demand nothing less than victory as his Pakistan side take on Sri Lanka in the first of two Tests starting on 28 September.

Positioned six and seventh, respectively, in the International Cricket Council's rankings for Test teams, Pakistan and Sri Lanka head to the Gulf for the start of an intriguing two-match series.

Tantalised by the prospect of international competition returning to Pakistan on a full-time basis during mid-September's visit from a so-called World XI, the pseudo hosts must now return to their home away from home.

Pakistan v Sri Lanka | 28 September - 2 October 2017 | Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi | 08:00

To Win Match
Pakistan 6/10| Draw 26/10 | Sri Lanka 4/1

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Pakistan will commence their first Test series of a new era forced upon them by the retirements of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. Usman Salahuddin and Haris Sohail have, then, effectively been commissioned with the daunting job of following in the middle-order footsteps of the veteran duo. The latter, though, has not played first-class cricket since 2014.

While Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Rizwan were overlooked, uncapped fast bowler Mir Hamza and all-rounder Bilal Asif have been included - and will be tasked with supporting a solid seam attack spearheaded by Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Amir. Riaz's pace and fire will be in high demand on a characteristically flat pitch.

Aware of the momentum that could be lost in the absence of the slim and trim Misbah, head coach Mickey Arthur and chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq have been on a big fitness drive across the squad. They set an example by sidelining Umar Akmal - and Yasir Shah was almost ousted, too. The leg-spinner, however, has been retained - and Azhar Ali included despite a knee injury.

Arthur has publicly invested plenty of confidence in Sarfraz Ahmed, imploring the captain to maintain aggression and composure throughout what will be a challenging tour. Ahmed's leadership skills and late-innings cameos were on cue during June's title-winning Champions Trophy campaign, but have been entirely untested in the longest format since early May.

Sri Lanka
Fielding coach Nic Pothas was quick to put a lid on Sri Lanka's 'transition period' scapegoat recently. Two years have passed since their last high-profile retirement and now, if not before, is certainly the time to move on. They will be without Angelo Mathews, who is nursing a calf injury, but even that is not an excuse for anything but success.

While the islanders have never lost a Test match at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium,  they'll want to do better than 2011 and 2014's draws. They'll be acutely aware, though, that Pakistan have never lost a Test at this venue. Five wins and four stalemates, indeed, have made the Abu Dhabi ground something of a fortress for its adopted hosts.

Hampered by several absentees, including Asela Gunaratne, Kusal Perera and Upul Tharanga, Sri Lanka have included uncapped batsmen Sadeera Samarawickrama and Roshen Silva in their squad for the two-Test affair. All of five players, meanwhile, have been placed on standby in the event of further injuries.

Sri Lanka's previous Test series against Pakistan, in 2015, saw a heavy reliance on Dimuth Karunaratne and Dhammika Prasad for big runs and plenty of wickets, respectively. The former is present this time, too, but not the latter. Karunaratne and the rest, must dig deep to set Sri Lanka up for a vital series lead ahead of the day-night Test in Dubai.

Verdict: Pakistan 6/10
No visiting team has ever won a Test in Abu Dhabi - and that's not about to change. While a draw remains likely, the probability of victory for Ahmed and company is more pronounced.