Azhar Ali remains optimistic as Pakistan braces for first real ‘home’ Test in a decade

RAWALPINDI: Captain Azhar Ali says he is determined to put up a good show in the first Test against Sri Lanka tomorrow.

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Addressing a press conference in Rawalpindi, Ali said the team was looking to improve their performance after the team’s last unsuccessful Test stint in Australia.

He stressed that as captain he would need to put up an exemplary display in hopes of leading the team to victory.

“As a captain I have to lead the team by example and so I will try my best to put on a big score and perform well so that we can win,” he said.

The skipper added that the team was not going to take their opponents lightly. “We cannot underestimate our opponent. They have the capability and have always played in a disciplined manner,” Ali said.

“We need to be able to perform against them and manage the pressure at the same time. We can’t perform if we can’t handle the pressure,” the 34-year-old added.

When asked about the playing XI for the first Test, Ali said, the team would be selected after looking at the conditions tomorrow.

“Judging by the changing weather, the toss will be crucial for us. The playing XI would then be decided on the given conditions of course but I do have a say on the matter,” he said.

The Pakistani skipper also extended his gratitude towards the Sri Lankan team for playing a major part in the revival of home cricket.

“We are over the moon that the series is being held at home. This move was pivotal for reviving cricket in Pakistan I am very thankful for them. We will be very hospitable towards our guests,” he added.

There is a lot more at stake than World Test Championship points for Pakistan when they host Sri Lanka in a two-match series this month as the country hosts its first Tests on home soil since the 2009 attack on Sri Lanka’s team bus in Lahore.

That attack left six security personnel and two civilians dead and six players injured, and saw Pakistan spend the next decade in the Test wilderness as teams refused to play there.

With the country’s cricket board (PCB) giving assurances that Pakistan was safe to travel, Sri Lanka returned to play several limited overs matches earlier this year, though 10 key players opted out citing security concerns.

Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne said it was now time to bring Test cricket back to Pakistan.

“After the 2009 incident, players were scared to travel to Pakistan,” he said in a PCB podcast.

“But our T20 and ODI teams have toured the country and they told us that security and other arrangements were really good.

“All our guys are ready to play. We are looking forward to a good series in Pakistan.”

The series, which begins in Rawalpindi on Wednesday, will be as much a test of Pakistan’s organisational abilities as its cricketing skills.

The PCB has promised watertight security for the tour and has invited Bandula Warnapura and Javed Miandad, captains in the first Test between the teams in 1982, for the series opener.

“December 11 will be a very special day in Pakistan cricket history and it is appropriate that it is celebrated with Bandula Warnapura and Javed Miandad on our side,” PCB Chairman Ehsan Mani said in a statement.

“PCB will continue to hold similar events … as we are now on the road to hosting regular international cricket at home.”

Pakistan, who were forced to play their “home” Tests at neutral venues, will look to use the series as an opportunity to bounce back after being swept 2-0 in Australia, suffering innings defeats both in Brisbane and Adelaide.

Sri Lanka will be playing under new head coach Mickey Arthur, who only took charge last Thursday and will start his tenure against his former employers Pakistan.

The tourists suffered a blow hours before their departure for Pakistan on Sunday when quick Suranga Lakmal was ruled out of the series with dengue fever.

Uncapped Asitha Fernando, currently playing in the South Asian Games in Nepal, will join the squad ahead of the second Test in Karachi from December 19.

The series is part of the World Test Championship, which sees the top nine test nations face-off over a two-year period, scoring points based on their success and culminating in a final at Lord’s in June 2021.

Reuters

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