After the truncated first Test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Rawalpindi, expectations are high ahead of the second Test, with forecasts pointing to improved weather conditions in Karachi from Thursday, 19 December.
The much-anticipated return of Test cricket in Pakistan – the Rawalpindi Test was the first in the country in over a decade – ended tamely, with only 167 overs of play possible across five days due to rain and bad light.
Despite that, in the little play that was possible, there were three unbeaten centuries, eight wickets, and all-round good entertainment for the home fans in what was a good contest.
For Pakistan particularly, the centuries from debutant Abid Ali and Babar Azam, the No.9-ranked batsman in the MRF Tyres ICC Test Player Rankings, is cause for optimism, particularly given the form of Azhar Ali, their captain. In 12 Test innings, Azhar hasn't scored a half-century, and it is a sequence of scores he'll be desperate to change.
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, will be without Kasun Rajitha, who sustained a left hamstring strain in Rawalpindi. Asitha Fernando, the 22-year-old quick, who was called up to the side as replacement for the injured Suranga Lakmal, is in line to make his Test debut, should the management opt to continue with a three-man pace attack.
In Rawalpindi, Sri Lanka skipper Dimuth Karunaratne and Oshada Fernando gave the visitors a good start. But their middle-order batsmen Kusal Mendis and Dinesh Chandimal were dismissed cheaply, before Dhananjaya de Silva helped revive the innings. Rain dominated most of the remainder of the Test. De Silva managed to reach his century on the final day, and helped Sri Lanka push their total past the 300-mark before declaring.
Pakistan lost their opener Shan Masood for nought in their first innings, and captain Azhar followed suit for 36. Abid (109*) and Babar (102*) then steadied the innings, putting on an unbeaten partnership of 162. They helped push Pakistan's total to 252/2 before rain forced early stumps on the final day.
What they said
Azhar Ali, Pakistan captain: "I was feeling confident, looked good, and got out. It's never good to be in that situation. I got some confidence, hopefully I can build on it in the next game."
Dimuth Karunaratne, Sri Lankan captain: "The batters did well, and unfortunately couple of days got washed out. We have some positives, want to learn from our mistakes and move on. We need to look at the positives and see how it goes in Karachi. Hopefully, it won't rain."
Forecast is for sunny skies in Karachi. The last Test played at the Karachi National Stadium was also between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, in February 2009, and at the time, it was a batting paradise; Sri Lanka scored 644/7 declared in their first innings, only to see Pakistan respond with 765/6 declared.