GALLE (Sri Lanka), June 21: Pakistan's stand-in captain Mohammad Hafeez is confident his young side will regroup after the one-day defeats to challenge Sri Lanka in the Mobilink Jazz Cup Test series starting on Friday.
Hafeez, 31, was thrown into the deep end when regular captain Misbah-ul-Haq was banned on Monday from the first Test due to Pakistan's slow over-rate in the final One-day International in Colombo.
Misbah was penalised for his team falling three overs short, which ICC match referee Chris Broad said was a ‘serious over-rate offence’ in One-day Internationals.
Hafeez, who was made his country's Twenty20 skipper ahead of the current tour, has played only 26 Tests and will become Pakistan’s 30th Test skipper on Friday.
But the all-rounder brushed aside the 3-1 loss in the one-dayers, saying Pakistan were determined to do their best in the three Tests.
“Misbah's calm influence will be missed, but it is a great honour to lead my country in Test cricket and I am ready for the challenge,” Hafeez said on Thursday.
“Test cricket demands discipline. Everyone plays a role in it, not just the captain. We will be inspired by the good work we have done in the longer format over the past few years.”
Pakistan have won seven of their last nine Tests, including a brilliant 3-0 whitewash of top-ranked England in the UAE earlier this year.
It is a remarkable record for a side that has been forced to play abroad due to other teams' refusal to tour Pakistan because of security concerns.
Pakistan's batting will revolve around Younis Khan, whose 76 Test appearances make him the only player in the side to have played more than 50 games.
The tourists will bank on their potent bowling attack led by prolific off-spinner Saeed Ajmal, who was the world's leading Test wicket-taker last year with 50 scalps in eight matches.
This year, Saeed has already grabbed 24 wickets in three Tests against England, and remains the main threat for Sri Lanka alongside left-arm spinner Abdur Rehman.
Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene said Saeed and Rehman ‘could be a handful’ in any conditions, but warned the tourists that the Galle wicket was not as spin-friendly as previously after being re-laid last year.
“The wicket looks good and it will need a balanced attack to take 20 wickets,” said Jayawardene, an accomplished middle-order veteran of 130 Tests.
Sri Lanka will be heavily banking to left-arm spinner Rangana Herath to turn their fortunes around. Since the retirement of the peerless Muttiah Muralitharan two years ago, Sri Lanka’s Test record has been dismal with four lost series and two drawn.
“Rangana is the most senior bowler who has been burdened with the workload. His bowling is fantastic,” Jayawardene said.
Galle has become a favourite venue for the orthodox left-armer. In six Tests he has taken 30 wickets at an average of 23.50, including a match-winning career best 12 for 171 against Andrew Strauss's England team last March.
“It's an important series for both teams and Rangana [Herath] and Saeed Ajmal will play a big role in all three Tests,” said Jayawardene. “It all depends on how the others react and how they take responsibility. This is going to be a very exciting series.”
Sri Lanka will look to their experienced batting line-up of Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Thilan Samaraweera to put up a big first innings total for their bowlers to take advantage of.
The Umpires Decision Review System (UDRS), made optional by the ICC in touring contests, will not be used in the series.
The second Test will be played in Colombo from June 30 and the third in Pallekele from July 8.
Teams (from): SRI LANKA: Tillakaratne Dilshan, Tharanga Paranavitana, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene (captain), Thilan Samaraweera, Dinesh Chandimal, Angelo Mathews, Prasanna Jayawardene, Chanaka Welegedara, Suraj Randiv, Rangana Herath, Nuwan Kulasekara, Nuwan Pradeep, Thisara Perera, Jeevan Mendis.
PAKISTAN: Mohammad Hafeez (captain), Taufiq Umar, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Ayub Dogar, Asad Shafiq, Adnan Akmal, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman, Mohammad Sami, Faisal Iqbal, Junaid Khan, Afaq Raheem, Aizaz Cheema.
Umpires: Steve Davis (Australia) and Ian Gould (England). Match referee: David Boon (Australia).—Agencies