Pakistan is gearing up for an exciting and action-packed 2023-24 international cricket season. The journey begins with the first Test of the ICC World Test Championship 2023-25 against Sri Lanka in Galle on Sunday. This will be followed by the second and last Test of the series, which will take place in Colombo from 24 July. Alongside the 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 an array of back-to-back international cricket fixtures, Pakistan, led by captain Babar Azam, is determined to start the season strong with a victory in Galle.
Galle – A Mixed Venue for Pakistan and Sri Lanka
Galle has been a venue where Pakistan and Sri Lanka have witnessed mixed results over the years. In the seven Tests played at Galle, Sri Lanka has emerged victorious on four occasions (in 2009, 2012, 2014, and 2022), while Pakistan has won thrice – by an innings and 163 runs (in 2000), 10 wickets (in 2015), and four wickets (in 2022).
The most recent victory for Pakistan in Galle took place 12 months ago when the team successfully chased down a challenging target of 342 runs for the loss of six wickets. Abdullah Shafique played a remarkable innings of 160 not out, supported by Babar Azam’s scores of 119 and 55 in the first and second innings, respectively. The bowlers also played a significant role, with Shaheen Shah Afridi taking four wickets in the first innings. Unfortunately, Afridi suffered an injury during the second innings and couldn’t participate further. However, Mohammad Nawaz claimed the best bowling figures of five for 88, while Yasir Shah took three for 122, leading Pakistan to victory.
Familiar Faces and New Additions
Thirteen players from the current squad were part of the side that toured Sri Lanka 12 months ago, bringing in valuable experience. Additionally, three newcomers have joined the team for this series: all-rounder Aamir Jamal, mystery-spinner Abrar Ahmed, and middle-order batter Mohammad Huraira. The inclusion of these players adds depth and versatility to the squad, and their performance will be closely watched during this tour and future series.
Pakistan captain Babar Azam is thrilled to be back in the red-ball format, expressing his excitement and readiness for the upcoming challenge in Galle. He acknowledges the importance of being consistent across all formats and emphasizes the positive aspect of having 13 players who were part of the previous Sri Lanka tour. Azam is particularly pleased with the return of Shaheen Shah Afridi, who brings not only wicket-taking abilities but also motivation and inspiration to the team. Afridi, sitting on 99 Test wickets, aims to become the fourth fastest Pakistan fast bowler to reach a century of wickets. His hunger for Test cricket after recovering from a knee injury is a driving force for Pakistan’s bowling attack.
Sri Lanka’s Spin Strength and Pakistan’s Preparation
Like any host country, Sri Lanka is expected to play to their strength, which is spin bowling. Pakistan has received valuable feedback about the Sri Lanka side from their former coach, Mickey Arthur, which has helped them in their preparation. The team is well-equipped to face the challenges posed by the Sri Lankan spinners. Pakistan’s approach will be focused on sticking to the basics, being patient, and showcasing their skills, temperament, and stamina. Test cricket is a true test of a player’s abilities, and Pakistan aims to demonstrate their development and growth as a side over the past 12 months.
Babar Azam – The Leading Cricketer
Babar Azam, the holder of the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy for the ICC Men’s Cricketer of the Year for 2022, is a pivotal player for Pakistan. With 3,696 runs in 47 Tests, including nine centuries and 26 half-centuries, Azam is one of the top-ranked cricketers across all formats. He ranks third in Tests, first in ODIs, and second in T20Is. His exceptional batting skills and consistent performances make him a formidable force in the upcoming cricket season.