Paul Radley's five talking points ahead of the two-Test series between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the first of which begins in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.
Sri Lanka's struggles cautionary tale for Pakistan ahead of Abu Dhabi cricket Test
The first Test series after the retirements of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan starts for Pakistan cricket when their new-look team host Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi.
The struggling away side provide a cautionary example of how difficult it can be to fill the void of two batting titans. Sri Lanka are still trying to find their way after Mahela Jayawardene – three years ago – and Kumar Sangakkara – two – vacated the five-day scene.
Misbah and his successor as Pakistan captain, Sarfraz, are contrasting personalities. The former is reserved, studious, and understated. The latter is usually vividly animated, and speaks ten-to-the-dozen stream of consciousness.
And yet the succession plan feels – eerily – just right. There was no real sounding off before this appointment. No great politicising. No arguing.
Sarfraz has captained at a variety of different levels previously. And, crucially, he starts with immense credit in the bank, after the joyous Champions Trophy success in England this summer.
“I think the life has very much changed and the responsibilities are big, and for me this is the first opportunity as captain in the Test,” Sarfraz said. “It is a tough challenge and hopefully I will do well.”
It is difficult to know what Pakistan are going to miss more: the leadership of Misbah and Younis, or the guarantee of runs they provided.
Over 15,000 Test runs went with them when they retired after Pakistan’s tour of West Indies in May.
In their stead, Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq have impressive records, even if they are not quite the dominant senior figures their forebears in Pakistan’s middle-order were.
Dinesh Chandimal, the Sri Lanka captain, acknowledged his side had been granted a much-needed pick-me-up by the absence of the two Pakistan stalwarts.
“Younis and Misbah are wily old foxes,” Chandimal said. “They played some really good cricket over their careers.
“We can have a really good advantage because the main two guys aren’t there in their batting unit. We need to step up as a unit.”
Test cricket in the UAE has always been a tough sell – at best. Returning here so soon after a triumphant Twenty20 series involving the World XI in Lahore has left an even more hollow feeling than usual.
It all feels entirely after the Lord mayor’s show. No wonder the Pakistan players want to get back home as soon as possible.
The final match of the T20 series in scheduled to be played in Lahore, but has yet to be confirmed as Sri Lanka’s players are prevaricating.
“My message to the Sri Lankan team is to come and play in Pakistan, Pakistan is a safe country,” Sarfraz said. “We recently hosted three matches with the World XI and they were safe, so my message is to come and play in Pakistan.”
Chandimal, though, is cautious. “At the moment, the board has said we can go there, but we just want to see the security first,” Chandimal said.
“We haven’t discussed anything as a team, and we need to do that, and we will come up with the decision in the future.”
This Test is the first to be played with a tweaked set of playing conditions from the International Cricket Council.
Players guilty of “serious misconduct” – basically, violence on the field – can now be expelled from the rest of the game.
Batsmen will not be run out if the wicket is broken when their bat bounces after they have made their ground.
Maybe the most likely change to be invoked will be the fact that teams will now retain any reviews that come back as “umpire’s call” as per the Decision Review System.
Batsmen will also have their bats measured to make sure the depth is not too large. Pakistan’s have already met with the umpires to ward off any problems.
“All the players have their bats checked with umpire, so there are no such problems with the size of the bat,” Sarfraz said.
And what of the actual game strategy? Loading the side with spinners and asking the groundsmen for a turner would hardly be a failsafe strategy for the home side.
Yes, Yasir Shah is fit and firing, but the visitors are not without their own slow-bowling excellence, primarily in the form of Rangana Herath, but also via promising left-arm chinaman bowler Lakshan Sandakan.
Pakistan do have pace bowling pedigree, too, but Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep are back for Sri Lanka, and they know their way around the pitches of the UAE.
When these sides met here in 2014, they took 11 wickets in the match to set up the win for Sri Lanka in Dubai.
1st Test Thursday-Monday at Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi. Play starts at 10am
2nd Test October 6-10 at Dubai International Stadium. Play starts at 3.30pm
One-day International series
1st ODI October 13, Dubai
2nd ODI October 16, Abu Dhabi
3rd ODI October 18, Abu Dhabi
4th ODI October 20, Sharjah
5th ODI October 23, Sharjah
Twenty20 International series
1st T20I October 26, Abu Dhabi
2nd T20I October 27, Abu Dhabi
3rd T20I October 29, Lahore
Tickets Available at www.q-tickets.com/sps, as well as at Zayed Cricket, plus selected outlets of Leopard Couriers Services, Al Ghurair International Exchange and UAE Exchange.
Stat - 37 Pakistan won 37 per cent of the 67 Test matches they played with Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq in their XI. This is the first Test in seven years without them involved
Captaincy battle - Sarfraz Ahmed v Dinesh Chandimal
Two players carrying the burden of leading their sides into a new era.
Chandimal first had the stabilisers taken off his bike while the likes of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara were still around in the limited-overs format for Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan cricket has stuttered through two years since they both vacated the Test scene. The further absence of Angelo Mathews through injury means Chandimal is light on experience colleagues to lean on.
The same goes for Sarfraz, who has been handed the tiller from the surest possible hand, that of Misbah.
Pakistan’s formidable record in UAE, plus the still warm glow of the Champions Trophy success, means he can start his Test captaincy tenure with plenty of optimism.