ODI cricket returns to Karachi after 10 years
After a decade of not witnessing any International action, cricket fans in Karachi, Pakistan can finally rejoice.
The 1st ODI of the Sri Lanka tour of Pakistan is starting today. The last ODI in Karachi was also played between these two teams in 2009. But, within that time, ODI cricket has witnessed a whole-scale transformation and 3 World Cups have passed.
The fact that cricket is resuming in Pakistan is going to have huge implications, not only on Pakistan, but on the sport itself. The crowd will swarm into the stadiums that have been empty for so long. A masterful contest between steamy fast-bowling, impervious batting and spin-wizardry is definitely on the cards.
This is the perfect time for Pakistan to resume International Cricket at home. The kick-starting of a home calendar is also the change Pakistan team probably required to rejuvenate the team with fresh enthusiasm and spirit.
Additionally, the appointment of Misbah-ul-Haq as the national coach comes at the right time. The former skipper has guided the team through turbulent times and the hope is that he will do a fine job shaping this team into a champion squad.
Looking at the Sri Lanka squad, there are a few skirmishes there as well. The squad that landed in Pakistan to contest in this ODI series is a competitively weaker side.
This is owed to the fact that 10 players in the national side refused to travel, expressing concerns over their personal safety. The hosts, Pakistan, naturally start as favourites against the Lankans, who are missing the experienced Kusal Perera, Angelo Mathews and designated captain Dimuth Karunaratne.
However, what fans should take away from this is that neither number of runs nor the frequency of wickets matter. What matters is that international cricket has restarted in Pakistan.
Sarfaraz in the spotlight
The old guard, comprising the selectors, the coach and the support staff, have been shown the door. However, despite the fact that Pakistan didn't make the semi-finals of the World Cup, Sarfaraz Ahmed remains the captain, which also begs a lot of questions.
Will Sarfaraz still choose to bat in the lower middle order? Is he changing tactics? What kind of influence will Misbah have in his new role and will the presence of Misbah change the way Sarfaraz approaches his captaincy role? Will he promote himself up the order to lead the charge?
Sri Lanka's dilemma
The Sri Lankan team have their own problems to solve. Captain Lahiru Thirimanne said that the other players decision to pull out of the tour was their own personal matter. Thirimanne also stated that he believed they have a good team and can do well if they perform to their full potential.
The Sri Lankan top order has been very fragile in ODIs. With the withdrawal of many senior players and experienced hands, the onus will be on Thirimanne to bat long. As he is the most experienced batsman in the team, his measured innings could help Sri Lanka post competitive totals.
Teams have been reluctant to tour Pakistan since an attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in 2009. The attack left 8 dead and several injured. Due to this,Pakistan have been forced to play all their home games in UAE.
The current tour, comprising 3 ODIs and 3 T20Is, was also hit by the withdrawal of 10 Lankan players, citing security concerns. Pakistan have put comprehensive security measures in place, led by the states's military to combat any potential threats. Around 2,000 personnel have been deployed on alert at the Team's hotel and at the ground.
Earlier this week, Thrimanne said, "SLC (Sri Lanka Cricket) has presented us the security plan which we are getting in Pakistan so I am pretty happy with that and I explained to my family as well, so they don't have any concerns."
The Sri Lankan side is crippled by its inexperienced batting. A lot of responsibility rests on the skipper's shoulders. The Lankan plan should be to make him the mainstay and let the rest of the team bat around him while he settles down comfortably in the crease to provide an onslaught in the end. The only specialist spinner, Lakshan Sandakan is most likely to play.
Possible XI: Lahiru Thirimanne (C), Danushka Gunathilaka, Avishka Fernando, Sadeera Samarawickrama (WK), Oshada Fernando, Shehan Jayasuriya, Dasun Shanaka, Isuru Udana, Wanindu Hasaranga, Lakshan Sandakan, Nuwan Pradeep.
Skipper Sarfaraz has stated that leading Pakistan in front of a home crowd will be the highlight of his career! Shaheen Afridi will be missing the series due to dengue. Hassan Ali's lack of form has forced the selectors to drop him too.
Asif Ali, who played only two World Cup matches, may get an opportunity in this game. Left-arm seamer Usman Shinwari, could also get a game.
Possible XI: Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Sarfraz Ahmed (C& WK), Asif Ali, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Amir, Usman Shinwari
Cover Image credits: Geo