Pakistan will rely on their strong bowling line-up led by off-spinner Saeed Ajmal to tame Sri Lanka in the three-match Test series starting in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Tuesday.
Pakistan won the preceding one-day series 3-2 on the back of penetrative bowling and strong batting,but captain Misbah-ul-Haq warned that they need to be at their best to beat Sri Lanka in the Tests.
“Ajmal has been performing a key role for us and we hope for the best in this Test,” said Misbah,who led Pakistan to a 1-1 series draw against world number one South Africa in their last Test series,in the UAE in October.
“We know each other well so it will be a good contest,” said Misbah. “We know that the Sri Lankans are good in these conditions,and with players like (Kumar) Sangakkara and (Mahela) Jayawardene,they are a dangerous side.
“So we need to play good cricket to win.”
Pakistan beat Sri Lanka 1-0 in the UAE in 2011,with Ajmal taking 18 wickets in three Tests while Umar Gul (14 wickets) and Junaid Khan (12) shouldered the burden of the pace attack.
Despite the loss,Sangakkara scored 516 runs including a double century in Abu Dhabi. He and Jayawardene are the stalwarts of the team’s batting.
Sangakkara,a stylish left-hander,was also the star when Sri Lanka beat Pakistan 1-0 at home last year,scoring 490 in three Tests.
By contrast,Pakistan’s batting has been vulnerable and they were dismissed for 49 and 99 this year.
But Mohammad Hafeez’s return to form,with three centuries in the one-dayers against Sri Lanka,and the experience of Younis Khan and Misbah will boost them.
Misbah said the Test series was expected to be close but Pakistan had a slight edge in the bowling.
“We do have a better bowling attack but Sri Lanka also have (Rangana) Herath who is a key bowler for them,so it will be a good contest,” said Misbah of the left-arm spinner who took 25 wickets in the last two series between the two teams.
Herath and senior batsman Jayawardene both missed the one-day series for family reasons.
Pakistan and Sri Lanka will also aim to give their coaches a winning send-off.
Pakistan’s Dav Whatmore and his Sri Lankan counterpart Graham Ford will leave their jobs after the Test series.
Sri Lankan captain Angelo Mathews refused to accept that Pakistan started as favourites.
“Both sides are equally matched and with Mahela and Herath back,we will be at full strength in the Tests and we will look to be more competitive,” he said.
“Pakistan have a very strong bowling attack but we have the batsmen to handle them so we must counter-attack and be smart.”
Pakistan will not improve on their current fifth-place world Test ranking even if they win 3-0. But sixth-placed Sri Lanka will replace Pakistan if they win 2-0 or better.
Pakistan have also added paceman Bilawal Bhatti as cover up in case of any injury to fast bowlers.
The second Test will be in Dubai starting January 8 and the third will be in Sharjah from January 16.