GALLE: Sri Lanka was in contention for the World Test Championship final until March. That prospect has whetted its appetite to get there in the new cycle.
The campaign starts on Sunday, when Sri Lanka plays Pakistan in Galle in the first of two tests.
“We had a pretty good campaign in the last World Test Championship and at one point we had a chance to make it to the finals,” Sri Lanka skipper Dimuth Karunaratne said. “We would have liked to finish things off better but our last series in New Zealand didn’t go the way we want. But this is a new opportunity and we are looking forward for the challenge.”
Left-arm quick Shaheen Afridi returns for Pakistan after a year out of the test side due to a knee injury, and the visitors are pinning their hopes on him.
When these teams met at the same ground last year, Afridi claimed four wickets in the first innings but suffered a serious right knee ligament injury while fielding in the second innings. He aggravated the injury months later at the T20 World Cup. Pakistan still won that first test but lost the second. They are mirroring the same series this year.
“Very pleased with the return of Shaheen Afridi,” Pakistan skipper Babar Azam said. “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.”
Shaheen is on 99 test wickets and set to become the fourth fastest Pakistani quick to 100.
Sri Lanka will miss the services of seam bowler Asitha Fernando, who is recovering from dengue fever.
Kasun Rajitha and Vishwa Fernando are expected to share the new ball although they have in the squad uncapped left-arm quick Dilshan Madushanka, who was highly impressive during the Asia Cup last year when his wickets included Virat Kohli.
Sri Lanka’s key weapon will be left-arm spinner Prabath Jayasuriya, who has an enviable record in Galle of 46 wickets from five tests including six five-wicket hauls.
Both teams have settled sides with Pakistan carrying 13 players in the squad who were in Sri Lanka 12 months ago.
The tourists will also be hoping for an uptick in fortune during the series. Since the beginning of 2022, Pakistan has won only one of 10 tests. Even so, it is sixth in the world ranking, one place higher than Sri Lanka.