GALLE: The last Test Pakistan won began a year ago on Sunday against Sri Lanka in Galle, and captain Babar Azam hopes to finally record another win in the match starting on the same date and ground.
“Really excited to be back in red-ball format and all eyes are on the Galle Test as we are prepared and ready for the challenge,” Azam told reporters on Saturday.
The batsman is the only cricketer in the world ranked in the top three in all three formats – third in Tests, first in ODIs and second in T20 internationals.
But his side’s form is a marked contrast: they have won none of their last six Tests, and last year’s Galle fixture was their only long-format victory since the start of 2022.
“We are taking one step at a time, but we have to be consistent across all formats,” Azam said.
“One of the positives going into the Galle Test is that 13 of our players were here 12 months ago.”
The two-match series marks the start of their ICC World Test Championship 2023-25 participation, and Azam was delighted to have Shaheen Shah Afridi back in the side.
The fast bowler is sitting on 99 Test wickets and will aim to become the fourth-fastest Pakistan quick to complete a century of wickets.
He has been waiting to reach the mark for a year, after being injured at the same Galle ground.
“Besides his wicket-taking abilities, his presence always motivates and lifts the side. I know Shaheen has badly missed red-ball cricket and is hungry for Test cricket,” the captain added.
Pakistan will make full use of newly appointed team director Mickey Arthur – a former Sri Lanka coach – as a source of information about the opposition.
“Like any host country, Sri Lanka will like to play to their strength, which is spin bowling,” said Azam.
“We have had good feedback about the Sri Lanka side from their former coach and I think we are well prepared to take them on.”
Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne said his main aim was to win all the home matches in the ICC World Test Championship and a few away from home, to ensure they have a chance of qualifying for the finals.
“It’s good to start the World Test Championship with a home series,” he said.
“We know the teams we are up against. We could have easily been in the finals if we had won the two Tests against Australia and Pakistan last year.
“We’ve learnt from our mistakes and we are well prepared for the first Test.”
Sri Lanka are putting out almost the same side that beat Ireland 2-0 in a two-match series in April, the only change being Kasun Rajitha replacing Asitha Fernando.
Karunaratne said it was crucial that the openers negotiate Shaheen’s overs.
“Once the ball gets old and with the wind he can reverse the ball as well,” he said.
“If you look at the Pakistan side they are well equipped in all departments,” he added.
“Both teams are confident but we are looking at winning every session and dominating the match.”