And so it comes: for the first time in ten years and nine months, Pakistan will be hosting a test match. Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium will be the center of global attention this time around after successful resumption of international cricket in Lahore and Karachi in recent years.
It was in March 2009, a dreadful attack on Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore halted international cricket proceedings in the country. Since then, this cricket-frenzy nation has been deprived of watching their stars in front of them.
The restoration of cricket in Pakistan has been a gradual and painful process. After six long years, Zimbabwe became the first team to tour Pakistan in 2015 for ODI’s and T20I’s. In 2017, with successful staging of PSL final in Lahore Pakistan made a great leap forward as it paved way for the World XI series with full backing from the ICC. Sri Lankan team shortly followed to play a solitary T20I.
Pakistan Cricket Board made conscious effort to resume cricket activities in other cities as well and Karachi was brought in the fold with the final of the third edition of PSL in 2018. West Indies team arrived in Karachi for three T20I series.
Pakistan has been determined to bring cricket back this year, at any cost. With eight PSL matches played in Karachi was a testament that Pakistan is ready to host international stars. Sri Lankan team visit in October for two weeks (longest by any team in ten years) further enhanced Pakistan’s image. Although senior players opted not to visit but the tour really was a break through one in making a case for the test series.
It’s a significant occasion for the home team. The whole squad will be playing their first test on home soil. With so much build up and off-field buzz surrounding this series, it is easy to lose focus on-field. There are still 120 points available for both teams in ICC Test Championship.
After an abysmal performance in Australia, Pakistan will be looking to get back to winning ways. The home side is yet to win a test in 2019 and have lost six on the trot. Two changes have been made in Pakistan’s squad from their recent tour down under. Fawad Alam makes a comeback to the test side after a gap of almost 10 years. Musa Khan makes way for Usman Shinwari.
The home fans will be looking towards Babar Azam to continue with his rich form. Shan Masood will also look to score big after not being able to convert his starts in to big ones in both Australia and Australia. Azhar Ali is in dire need of runs and should make full use of home conditions.
Muhammad Abbas and Shaheen Shah will take the bulk of responsibility in the pace attack. It will be interesting to see whether team management will give Naseem Shah another go or they will go with the left-arm spin of Kashif Bhatti to assist Yasir Shah. The leg-spinner had a horrendous series with the ball in Australia and will look to make amends on tracks where he will get more purchase.
On the other hand, a strong Sri Lankan contingent led by captain Dimuth Karuranatne has landed in Pakistan. Sri Lankans are coming on the back of a drawn series against New Zealand in August. Earlier this year they also stunned South Africa with a 2-0 series win away. The batting looks strong with players like Angelo Mathews, Chandimal and Kusal Mendis in the side.
The Islanders will be without the services of ever-reliable Suranga Lakmal who is out of the series due to dengue fever. Asitha Fernado has been named his replacement. The pace duties will be shared by Lahiru Kumara and Kasun Rajitha who was the second-highest wicket-taker in the series against Proteas.
For Pakistan, the homecoming of test cricket is one of those great stories that really matter. Stories that are full of danger and darkness. Sometimes you don’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could things go back to the way they were when so much bad has happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must past. A new day will come and when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. And it will certainly shine clearer when first ball is bowled in the morning.
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