A freshness to Pakistan and Sri Lanka sides ahead of Test

While the two cricket nations play each other regularly, each team has a new look since their last Test meeting in 2009.

Pakistan players feel the heat during their training session at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
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ABU DHABI // Few clashes reassert both the closed nature of Test cricket and the rushed, repetitive make-up of its calendar as a Pakistan-Sri Lanka contest. If an India-Sri Lanka game often feels like a weekly commitment, Pakistan and Sri Lanka is a fortnightly one.

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Consider that when the two sides open the Test series at the Zayed Cricket Stadium on Tuesday, it will be the ninth bilateral series between the two (including one-day internationals and Twenty20s) since 2006. Just for good measure, they have played nine times in global tournaments in that period. Familiarity, thus, should breed some benefits, too.

"It's good we know the players," said Tillakaratne Dilshan, the Sri Lanka captain. "They've got some good players, both teams have got good players.

"We played them in 2009 back home, where we played a good series. But we're meeting after some time now [in a bilateral contest] and this is a good challenge."

Still there is freshness to look out for. Only six of Sri Lanka's squad appeared in the last Test series between the two in 2009 and only five from Pakistan's squad.

Sri Lanka won that comfortably, though it was closer than the 2-0 scoreline indicated, but it marked part of a recent trend of Sri Lankan ascendancy; of the last 10 Tests between the two, Sri Lanka have won four and lost two.

And conditions in the UAE at this time of year will provide, as both captains acknowledged, a unique challenge.

"[The heat] is difficult but one thing that helps is that in Pakistan the weather is like this," said Misbah-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain, who speaks from the experience of last year, when he led here against South Africa.

"We just had a short camp there so that will help us a little bit. But no doubt, it's a real test for us to play Tests in this heat."

A more pressing challenge for Sri Lanka will be to overturn a worrying run of form that has slipped by mostly unnoticed: they have not won a Test in their last 11 attempts, a run stretching back to July 2010, when they beat India.

Losing the services of a man responsible for 40 per cent of the entire team's wickets through his career - as Muttiah Muralitharan was - is not a blow that affords ready recovery. "Out of the 11 Tests, we've lost only a few Tests [three]," Dilshan said. "Other than that we played some good Tests.

"The bowling unit is very young and we have to give them experience, and I think they're now getting ready to do their job. They are getting experience, talking to good players and I think getting ready to play some good Test cricket."

By relative contrast, Pakistan are on a gentle upwards curve. They have not lost a Test series since the miserable summer of 2010 and have stabilised around an experienced - if slightly bland - core: seven of the squad are 30-plus. They have not beaten a higher-ranked side in a series for some time, but an opportunity is present here.

"The morale is very good because we've played good Test cricket for the last year," Misbah said.

"Everyone knows their roles and we are just playing consistently. There are not many changes in the team, everyone knows their role and more important, everyone is performing in this team. That is the key because it is about teamwork not just some players."


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