The return of Test cricket to Pakistani soil is an emotional occasion, captain Azhar Ali said on Tuesday (December 10th 2019) but that will not come in the way of his team's efforts to make amends for a disastrous tour of Australia.
Pakistani players will play Test cricket at home after a gap of 10 years when they take on Sri Lanka in a two-Test series starting here on Wednesday. A 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team had led to a freeze on cricket in Pakistan, which has been playing its home matches on neutral venues.
"All the players are very emotional about this Test series. It is great to be back to our home grounds and I just hope that Test cricket returns regularly to Pakistan now, Azhar told a media conference.
Azhar also conceded that the series is a make-or-break situation for his team as it has not been playing well in Test cricket for some time now. Pakistan lost 0-2 to Australia.
"It is unacceptable the way we lost in Australia. The last two series in South Africa and Australia have been tough for us. We know how important this series is.
"We need to turn to reverse our results and get back on the winning track as there is a lot of pride in Pakistan cricket and we need to win back the confidence of the fans," he said.
Asked if the presence of former Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur in the Sri Lankan camp would make a big difference to the series as he had worked with the Pakistan team for three years, Azhar said the South African's experience would be good for the visiting side.
"Obviously he knows a lot about us as he had worked with us for three years. But in modern-day cricket I think nowadays everyone is updated about other teams. We had a plan for David Warner in Australia. It didn't work. So we are ready to take up any of the challenges he (Arthur) will throw at us," he said.
The under-pressure Pakistan skipper also made it clear that Sri Lanka would be a tough side to beat even in home conditions.
"Sri Lanka has always been a tough team because they play disciplined cricket. We also have to play disciplined cricket in every department. Test cricket demands disciplined cricket. You can't win a test in one session but you can lose a test in one session. So one has to be disciplined to beat Sri Lanka at home or away," he said.
"We have to rely on our bowling attack. Yasir Shah didn't do well in Australia but he has won us many matches and I think he will return to his old self in this series. We have confidence in our attack and we are backing them," he added.
About his own poor form, Azhar conceded that every captain has a playing role in the team and if he performs well, it sends out the right message to other players.
"I am aware of the situation and I am trying to get back into form. In terms of playing, I am happy it is just that I have been unable to transfer my innings into big scores and I am working on that," he said.
"If, after 10 years of top cricket I can't handle the pressure then I shouldn't be playing for Pakistan. I just focus now on how I can best play a role and help the team win. I want to contribute to our team winning matches," he added.
There is a forecast of rain on the second and third days of the match.
Azhar said one can't say for certain how much time is required to rebuild the team.
"We have never kept patience and we don't give the rebuilding process time. I think these players have a lot of potential and they will soon come out of their comfort zone once they play under different conditions. We have to keep patience instead of calling for changes," he asserted.