SHARJAH: Pakistan are desperate for a helpful pitch to get them a series-levelling win against Sri Lanka in the third and final Test starting in Sharjah on Thursday. Captain Misbahul Haq was frustrated over two previous unresponsive pitches, the first in Abu Dhabi where Sri Lanka batted resolutely to salvage a draw, and then in Dubai where a first-day seaming pitch undid Pakistan’s batting and later blunted their bowling.
Sri Lanka, helped by their new-look pace attack and a fighting century from old campaigner Mahela Jayawardene recorded their biggest-ever win of nine wickets over Pakistan to take a 1-0 lead. The lack of spin on those pitches nullified Pakistan’s match-winning bowler Saeed Ajmal and he has taken only five wickets in two Tests so far. The look of the Sharjah stadium pitch suggests it will only turn on the last two days.
Sri Lanka posted a big 413-run total when the two teams last played at the venue in November 2011 in a match, which Pakistan only saved because of heavy rain on the final day on their way to a 1-0 series, win. Misbah admitted Pakistan’s chances of levelling the series largely depend on the pitch. “In my opinion this looks a good pitch and I think you get spin on the pitches here and the team which plays better and show patience will have more chance,” he said. “I think pitches here are like that, but there are strange results here,” said Misbah whose team has lost four of their last 13 Tests against Sri Lanka with only one win and eight draws.
Pakistan will be forced to bring in a bowler in place of paceman Bilawal Bhatti who injured his hamstring during the second Test. He will be replaced either by fast bowler Mohammad Talha or left-armer Abdul Rehman, if Pakistan decide to play with two spinners. Pakistan are also likely to tinker with their top-order batting with opener Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez --- who both failed in Dubai – making way for Shan Masood or Azhar Ali. Sri Lanka have no such problems, hoping Jayawardene recovers from a finger injury, which hampered his batting in the second Test.
Skipper Angelo Mathews said he hoped the pitch will help the spinners. “It’s not going to be any way close to what we had in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, looks like its going to be spin and some reverse swing,” said Mathews who registered his first overseas win as captain in Dubai. “After the Dubai win we are very confident going into the third Test, but we have to start it all over again.” Besides the series win target, the sixth-placed Sri Lanka will replace Pakistan (currently fifth) in the Test rankings if they win 2-0 in the series. The teams will also try to give their coaches – Dav Whatmore of Pakistan and Graham Ford of Sri Lanka – a winning farewell as both leave their posts after the match.
Pakistan: Misbahul Haq (capt), Mohammad Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad, Khurram Manzoor, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Younus Khan, Sarfraz Ahmed, Junaid Khan, Saeed Ajmal, Bilawal Bhatti, Abdul Rehman, Rahat Ali, Mohammad Talha.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (capt), Dinesh Chandimal, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Kaushal Silva, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Perera, Prasanna Jayawardene, Suranga Lakmal, Shaminda Eranga, Nuwan Pradeep, Sachithra Senanayake, Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera, Vishwa Fernando.
Umpires: R Kettleborough (ENG) and S Ravi (IND)
Third umpire: B Oxenford (AUS)
Match referee: J Srinath (IND).
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