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Cricket: Pakistan gear up for much-needed home series

Pakistan gear up for much-needed home seriesThe Big Picture
The hastily arranged series against Sri Lanka is just what Pakistan cricket needs: it quenches their fans' thirst for high-quality cricket, it should ease the board's massive financial problems and will hopefully shift the focus from a spate of controversies surrounding the country's cricket in the past few months (emphasised by the ludicrous situation of the board potentially facing a lawsuit from their own legal advisor).

Both sides enter the contest in impressive ODI form - Sri Lanka have lost only five of their past 20 games, and Pakistan have done even better, winning all but three of the previous 21 matches - but the numbers are significantly boosted by the spate of matches they have played against weak opposition.

As with the build-up to every series since his debut, this one has seen much of the talk centre on mystery spinner, Ajantha Mendis, who recently became the quickest bowler to 50 ODI wickets. The compressed contest, three matches to be played in five days, leaves Pakistan's batsmen little time to reassess their strategy against him during the series. They have prepared to counter his threat by practising on shorter pitches but they aren't the only batting unit entering the series with worries.

Sri Lanka have breached the 200-run mark only once in their last eight games, all of which were against the unthreatening bowling attacks of Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Their captain Mahela Jayawardene has demanded improvement from his batsmen and, given the form he is in - averaging 8.33 in his last nine innings - he needs to set the example.

ODI form guide (most recent first)

Pakistan WWWWW
Sri Lanka WLWWW

Watch out for ...

With Chaminda Vaas cutting down on his ODI workload, Nuwan Kulasekara has become Sri Lanka's premier quick bowler in the 50-over game. His numbers over the past year - 40 wickets at 19.15 - compare favourably with Muttiah Muralitharan's over the same period.

Younis Khan was Pakistan's leading run-getter last year, and his role becomes even more crucial in the absence of the experienced Mohammad Yousuf. He is in irrepressible form as well, with three hundreds and three half-centuries in his last eight matches.

Team news

The bad news for Pakistan is that Shoaib Akhtar is yet again a doubtful starter for tomorrow's game. Pakistan are likely to play three fast bowlers, with Saeed Ajmal, Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik sharing the spinning duties. Misbah-ul-Haq is also unwell, but though is confident of playing, he may miss out, in which case Umar Amin is likely to be included in the playing eleven.

Pakistan: Salman Butt, Khurram Manzoor, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Shoaib Malik (capt), Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akaml (wk), Sohail Tanvir, Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal

Jehan Mubarak hasn't been in the best of form lately and could make way for allrounder Angelo Mathews.
Sri Lanka: Sanath Jayasuriya, Upul Tharanga, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Chamara Kapugedera, Thilan Thusharsa, Angelo Mathews, Farveez Maharoof, Nuwan Kulasekara, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis

Pitch and conditions

The pitch in Karachi looked on Sunday like it might be good for bowling, but has become drier and looks like a more traditionally subcontinental, batting friendly surface. The National Stadium was a batting paradise during the Asia Cup last year, with teams regularly able to chase down totals in the region of 300.

The weather forecast is perfect: sunny with the temperature expected to be in mid-twenties.

Stats and trivia

Murali needs only nine more wickets to go past Wasim Akram's tally of 502 and become the leading wicket-taker in ODIs
If Sri Lanka win all three matches, they will move up two places in the ranking to fourth
No Pakistan batsman has scored a century against Sri Lanka since Mohammad Yousuf more than four years ago
Upul Tharanga has not made a half-century in his last 17 innings

Quotes

"We did think to play with four seamers until Monday, but after seeing the pitch today we are now thinking of playing with three seamers."
Shoaib Malik outlines the make-up of Pakistan's bowling outfit

"There are periods when you go through tough times as a team and you need to pull through them. That's what character is all about."

Sri Lanka may have struggled against the minnows over the past two months but Mahela Jayawardene isn't reading too much into that



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