Galle: Pakistan strike bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi will seek to take his 100th Test wicket in the first Test against Sri Lanka starting in Galle on Sunday, a year after he was injured at the same ground.
Shaheen was on 99 Test wickets when he was injured landing awkwardly at the boundary line trying to stop the ball, and it will be his first outing in the long form of the game since then.
“Injuries are a part of an athlete’s life, but it is good to be back,” he told AFP at the end of Pakistan’s two-day warm-up fixture against a Sri Lanka Cricket President’s XI, which ended in a draw at Hambantota.
The century of Test wickets “would be a big achievement for me” and he has had an extended wait to reach the milestone, he added.
“It’s tough to be away from cricket, but time has helped me learn a lot.”
The two sides are both shadows of the Test powers they once were, and are beginning the long quest to try to qualify for the next ICC World Test Championship final, to be held in 2025.
The hosts are in seventh place and the visitors sixth in the current ICC Test rankings.
In last year’s series, Pakistan won the first Test by four wickets while Sri Lanka won the second by 246 to square the series, with Shaheen out of the attack. Both matches were played in Galle.
In the recent warm-up match Shaheen bowled at searing pace with lethal seam, taking three wickets for 36 in 12 overs as Pakistan dismissed the opposition for 196.
“I am very excited to be making my Test comeback in the country where I was injured,” he said.
Sri Lanka will be looking to replace Asitha Fernando, who has gone down with dengue fever, with uncapped left-arm pacer Dilshan Madushanka.
After an impressive start to his white-ball career, 22-year-old Madushanka has played six ODIs and 11 T20Is, and is eyeing a Test debut after being named in Sri Lanka’s squad of 16 for the first Test.
He was recently Player of the Match in the 2023 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Qualifier final against the Netherlands, taking three for 18 in a fine new-ball spell.
Off-spinner Lakshitha Manasinghe is the other new face in the hosts’ squad.
But he will have to contend with several other spinners for a place in the team, among them Prabath Jayasuriya and Ramesh Mendis, the recalled Praveen Jayawickrama, Kamindu Mendis, and middle-order batsman Dhananjaya de Silva.
De Silva is the heir apparent to the Test captaincy and has been named as deputy to Dimuth Karunaratne, who is recovering from a hamstring injury and had said he wants to step down ahead of the new WTC cycle, but was asked by the selectors to continue.
As cover for Karunaratne the selectors recalled Pathum Nissanka, who has figured mostly in white-ball cricket since playing his last Test against Australia at Galle in July 2022.
Pakistan for both Tests: Babar Azam (captain), Abdullah Shafique, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Huraira, Shan Masood, Saud Shakeel, Mohammad Rizwan (vice-captain/wk), Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Salman Ali Agha, Mohammad Nawaz, Aamer Jamal, Abrar Ahmed, Hassan Ali, Naseem Shah, Nauman Ali, Shaheen Shah Afridi.
Sri Lanka for first Test: Dimuth Karunaratne (captain), Nishan Madushka, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Dhananjaya de Silva (vice-captain), Pathum Nissanka, Sadeera Samarawickrama (wk), Kamindu Mendis, Ramesh Mendis, Prabath Jayasuriya, Praveen Jayawickrama, Kasun Rajitha, Dilshan Madushanka, Vishwa Fernando, Lakshitha Manasinghe.