Pakistan to play first Test in 14 months

Pakistan will hope to put a series of on and off-field disasters behind them and rebuild under new captain Younis Khan when they play their first Test.

updated: February 20, 2009 10:24 IST
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Pakistan will hope to put a series of on and off-field disasters behind them and rebuild under new captain Younis Khan when they play their first Test in 14 months against Sri Lanka from Saturday.

Drug and disciplinary problems and a series of poor results had already plunged Pakistan into crisis before multiple bomb blasts and the Mumbai attacks robbed the team of playing opportunities.

Australia and New Zealand both cancelled matches and India also called off a visit after the Mumbai incident, which it said was planned on Pakistani soil.

The elite Champions Trophy, scheduled for last September, was put off for a year and then withdrawn from Pakistan completely this month.

Meanwhile, some 17 first-class players remain banned from international cricket after taking part in the unsanctioned Indian Cricket League.

Younus, who replaced Shoaib Malik in January after a one-day mauling by Sri Lanka, said Pakistan hoped to leave their problems in the past.

"Whatever has happened in the past is behind us," said Younus.

"I know my job and feel no pressure as captain, and I also know my role as a batsman. My team is also in the right frame of mind."

Pakistan have not played a Test since facing India at Bangalore in December 2007, and have not hosted one since playing South Africa in October two years ago.

Sri Lanka agreed to a split tour after India pulled out, playing three one-day matches last month before returning for two Tests.

However, Pakistan's prospects look shaky with controversial fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar out injured, leaving the onus on fellow quick Umar Gul and leg-spinner Danish Kaneria.

Debutant captain Younus will also have to carry the batting in the absence of Mohammad Yousuf, who is one of the banned rebels.

In their 15-man squad, Pakistan have named five uncapped players -- fast bowlers Sohail Khan and Mohammad Talha, openers Ahmed Shahzad and Khurram Manzoor, and all-rounder Fawad Alam.

Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene backed Younus to handle the situation and insisted Pakistan would pose a serious challenge.

"I don't think captaincy is going to be a problem for Younus and the guys around him have quite a bit of experience, not just playing for Pakistan but playing for counties and various other teams," Jayawardene said.

"I know they haven't played Test cricket for quite some time so we have to wait and see how their approach is going to be."

Jayawardene, who is stepping down after this series, will hope to go out on a high and help Sri Lanka bounce back from their 1-4 one-day defeat to India this month.

"Our Test team is quite different to our one-day team. The way we play and our approach is quite different so I don't think it's going to make a huge difference," he said.

Jayawardene can count on world record-holder Muttiah Muralitharan and fellow spin sensation Ajantha Mendis, and has also been boosted by the return of veteran paceman Chaminda Vaas.

Pakistan have been embroiled in controversy dating back to the forfeited Test in England in 2006 when captain Inzamam-ul-Haq launched a dressing room protest after a ball-tampering citation.

Akhtar was banned for drugs and later reinstated along with Mohammad Asif, who has since been suspended from the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) for failing another dope test.

The team was also in the spotlight during the 2007 World Cup, when coach Bob Woolmer collapsed and died suddenly following a shock defeat by Ireland.

Last October Pakistan fired Woolmer's replacement Geoff Lawson, 15 months after his appointment.

The second Test starts in Lahore on March 1.

Teams (from):

Pakistan: Younis Khan (capt), Salman Butt, Khurram Manzoor, Ahmed Shahzad, Shoaib Malik, Misbah-ul-Haq, Faisal Iqbal, Asim Kamal, Fawad Alam, Yasir Arafat, Danish Kaneria, Kamran Akmal, Umar Gul, Mohammad Talha, Sohail Khan

Sri Lanka: Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Malinda Warnapura, Tharanga Paranavitana, Kumar Sangakkara, Thilan Samaraweera, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Prasanna Jayawardene, Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis, Chamara Kapugedera, Farveez Maharoof, Dilhara Fernando, Thilan Thushara, Suranga Lakmal

Umpires: Simon Taufel (AUS), Steve Davis (AUS)

TV umpire: Zamir Haider (PAK)

ICC match referee: Chris Broad (ENG)