Pakistan will launch their busy, challenging, and action-packed 2023-24 international cricket season with the first Test of the ICC World Test Championship 2023-25 against Sri Lanka in Galle on Sunday. The second and last Test of the series will be played in Colombo from 24 July.
Apart from the ICC World Test Championship matches, Pakistan is also scheduled to participate in the ACC Asia Cup, ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023, and the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2024 in the next 12 months.
With all-format back-to-back international cricket lined up, a good and strong start in Galle is what Babar Azam and his side will be aiming for.
Galle is a venue where Pakistan and Sri Lanka have achieved mixed results. In the seven Tests to date, Sri Lanka has won four times (2009, 2012, 2014, and 2022), while Pakistan has won thrice – by an innings and 163 runs (2000), 10 wickets (2015) and four wickets (2022).
When Pakistan last won in Galle 12 months ago, the tourists chased down the 342-run target for the loss of six wickets with Abdullah Shafique scoring a memorable 160 not out and Babar Azam following up his 119 in the first innings with 55.
Amongst the bowlers, Shaheen Shah Afridi took four wickets in the first innings before he was injured during the second innings and was ruled out of further participation. However, the best bowling figures of five for 88 from Mohammad Nawaz and Yasir Shah’s three for 122 combined in the second innings to share wickets.
From the current squad, 13 players were part of the side that toured Sri Lanka 12 months ago. The three newcomers are all-rounder Aamir Jamal, mystery-spinner Abrar Ahmed and middle-order batter Mohammad Huraira.
“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,” Pakistan captain Babar Azam said, adding: “We are taking one step at a time, but we have to be consistent across all formats.
One of the positives going into the Galle Test is 13 of our players were here 12 months ago. Abrar Ahmed has identified himself as a good option in our combination. I am sure this tour will be a good learning curve for him as we have high hopes from him in this and future series.
I am particularly pleased with the return of Shaheen Shah Afridi. Besides his wicket-taking abilities, his presence always motivates and lifts the side. I know Shaheen has badly missed red-ball cricket and is now hungry for Test cricket.
Shaheen is sitting on 99 Test wickets and will aim to become the fourth fastest Pakistan fast bowler to complete a century of wickets. He could have achieved this feat last year had he not been sidelined due to a knee injury.
Shan Masood, Babar Azam and Saud Shakeel scored half-centuries, while Hasan Ali, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Abrar Ahmed and Aamir Jamal took wickets against the SLC Board XI in Hambantota.
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“Like any host country, Sri Lanka will like to play to their strength, which is spin bowling. We have had good feedback about the Sri Lanka side from their former coach Mickey Arthur and I think we are well-prepared to take them on. We will stick to basics and be patient as this is Test cricket, which is a test of skills, temperament, and stamina.
“Test results in the past 12 months may not have been in our favor, but we have definitely developed and grown as a side.”
Babar Azam is the holder of the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy for the ICC Men’s Cricketer of the Year for 2022. He has to date scored 3,696 runs in 47 Tests with nine centuries and 26 half-centuries. He is the only cricketers to feature inside the top-three across all formats – third in Tests, first in ODIs and second in T20Is.