The two-match series between Pakistan and Sri Lanka will mark the return of Test cricket on Pakistan soil after 10 years. Pakistan and Sri Lanka have met each other 53 times in the longest format of the game. The hosts have the lead here having won 19 of these encounters while Sri Lanka have been on the winning side 16 times. In the last five Tests though Sri Lanka have a 3-2 lead over Pakistan.
Ground Details and Team Combination
The Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium will be hosting its first Test since 2004. A total of seven first-class matches have been played here since the start of 2018 and with an average first innings score of 230, it is fair to say that bowlers have had a good time here. The venue has hosted 17 first-class encounters since the start of 2016 and not a single game has ended in a draw. In the last two years, the average runs per wicket here read 23.5 and the bowlers have managed to pick a wicket every 44.4 deliveries.
The surface at Rawalpindi offers a lot of assistance to fast bowlers who have dictated terms here in the last two years. In seven first-class matches since the start of 2018, pacers have returned 173 wickets here striking every 43.8 deliveries. Meanwhile, spinners have picked a wicket every 57.9 balls.
Amongst all bowling types, while off-spinners have the best strike-rate of 41.3 at this venue, right-arm pacers have picked up the bulk of wickets. Barring leg-spinners and left-arm orthodox to an extent all other bowler types have a terrific record at this venue. The likes of Usman Shinwari, Shaheen Afridi, Lahiru Kumar and Kasun Rajitha will enjoy bowling on this pitch while someone like off-spinner Dilruwan Perera might also get some purchase.
A combination of six frontline batsmen including the wicket-keeper, one spin-bowling all-rounder and four fast bowlers could be the way to go for this Test.
Having already proven his worth in white-ball cricket, Babar Azam slowly and steadily has also become Pakistan's most dependable batsman in the longest format of the game. The right-hander has scored more runs than any other Pakistan batsman since the start of 2018. He scored 210 runs at an average of 52.50 against Australia and was Pakistan's highest run-getter in the two-match series. Babar however couldn't get those big hundreds and he will look to change it around against Sri Lanka. Not a single player from the Pakistan squad has played a Test match in their home country and Babar will be eager to show his class in front of the home crowd.
Our first X-factor is Dimuth Karunaratne. The left-handed opener has scored 427 runs in six Tests and is Sri Lanka's highest run-scorer this year in the format. The Sri Lankan captain averages over 40 in the subcontinent and has hit seven out of his nine centuries in these conditions. He enjoys batting against Pakistan as he has plundered 822 runs in eight Tests at 54.8 against this opponent. Opening in Rawalpindi won't be easy for Karunaratne but the 31-year-old will have to ensure that the Pakistani pace attack doesn't get early access to Sri Lanka's middle order.
Just like this series will mark the return of Test cricket to Pakistan after 10 years, Fawad Alam too will be making his return to red-ball cricket after as many years. He has been unstoppable in the last few years as he averages 80 in first-class cricket since the start of 2018. Fawad’s record at Rawalpinidi is also pretty good. He has played eight first-class encounters at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium and averages 69.9 there. Fawad can provide Pakistan that much-required solidity in the middle-order.
2019 hasn't been Mohammad Abbas' year! In 2019, the right-arm paceman has only managed five wickets in three Tests at an average of 66.20, compared to his overall average of 20. 37. Abbas struggled in South Africa and Australia but Sri Lanka will have to careful against the 29-year-old who is usually at his best in Asian conditions. Abbas operates at an average of 17.6 in the subcontinent, and will get enough movement in Rawalpindi to cause serious damage. The right-arm pacers have a solid record at this venue and there's no better option than Abbas when it comes to these two sides.
Rain is expected to make its presence felt on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and that might play a huge role in the outcome of the match. It will mostly be cloudy and the temperature will hover around 22-degree mark on average.
Suggested FanFight Team:
Dimuth Karunaratne, Babar Azam (c), Kusal Perera, Fawad Alam, Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Dilruwan Perera, Mohammad Abbas, Shaheen Afridi, Naseem Shah, Vishwa Fernando.