Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Oct 17: Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq has warned against reading too much into Sri Lanka's 11-test winless streak as it prepares to host the islanders in a three-test series starting on Tuesday in the Emirates.
“Sri Lanka, no doubt, is one of the best teams in the world and especially in these conditions,” Misbah said on Sunday. “On the subcontinent, they are really a tough side so we are aware of that. We really have to play well to do well against them.
“It doesn't matter that they have not been winning because they were playing in England, different conditions. But in these conditions, I know, and we all know, that Sri Lanka is a very good side.”
The Lankans haven't won a match since offspinning great Muttiah Muralitharan retired with a record 800th wicket last July in the opening test against India at Galle.
India rebounded to draw that series 1-1, while Sri Lanka was held to 0-0 at home by West Indies in a rain-plagued contest last December before losing successive 2011 series 1-0, in England in the summer and last month against Australia at home.
Both teams enter the series with new coaches.
Sri Lanka has appointed former Australia opener Geoff Marsh as the long-term successor to Trevor Bayliss after using Stuart Law and Rumesh Ratnayake in interim roles.
Marsh, who previously worked with Zimbabwe and the Indian Premier League franchise, Pune Warriors, was quick to stress the need to stay in the present.
“We can't look back at the last 11 test matches. That, for us, is in the past,” Marsh said. “I've taken on the role and been in Sri Lanka for three weeks and we've just really been focusing on getting this squad of players ready for this test.”
Pakistan chairman of selectors Mohsin Khan has filled the vacant position on the other side while the search continues for a long-term successor to Waqar Younis, who quit in the summer.
Despite perennial off-field issues constantly offering distractions to Pakistan cricket, captain Misbah has moulded a formidable squad since he took over following the blighted, spot-fixing tour of England 14 months ago.
The 37-year-old late bloomer identified stability in the side as the key to recent successes, which has seen Pakistan draw series against South Africa in the UAE and against West Indies at home and win in New Zealand and in Zimbabwe.
“The morale is very good because we have been playing very good test cricket for the last year,” he said. “Everybody knows their roles and we're playing on a consistent basis. There are not much changes in the team.”
One of the standouts of the year has been Mohammaz Hafeez, who has emerged as a quality allrounder with his top-order batting flourishing in all formats as has his offspin bowling.
The batting will revolve around Hafeez and Misbah as well as the linchpin, Younus Khan, a former skipper with a great record, while another former skipper Shoaib Malik is expected to get another chance to resurrect his career.
The bowling is back to full strength after an experimental attack helped serve up a win in the one-off test in Zimbabwe last month, with fast bowlers Umar Gul and Wahab Riaz expected to return to the 11.
Fellow pacer Aizaz Cheema, who took his belated chance at age 32 with eight wickets in the Zimbabwe victory, may have to make way for a second spinner.
The spin spearhead is undoubtedly Saeed Ajmal with Hafeez lending support and Abdur Rehman offering variety with his left-armers.
Sri Lanka's bowling is thin on experience, with left-arm spinner Rangana Herath's century of wickets way ahead of the other contenders.
But captain Tillakaratne Dilshan, who turned 35 last Friday, has backed his up and comers to do the job efficiently.
“We have a bowling unit that is very young,” he said. “This will be an experience for them and I think they are now ready to do the job for the Sri Lankan team.”
Herath and offspinner Suraj Randiv could form a two-pronged slow attack while Suranga Lakmal looks the most impressive of a raw pace quintet that also includes left-armer Chanaka Welegedara, Dhammika Prasad and the uncapped duo, Kosala Kulasekara and Nuwan Pradeep.
One area Sri Lanka can top the Pakistanis is in middle-order batting where former skipper Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene have been rocks for the past decade.
“It's great having Sanga and Mahela in the team. It is good for the youngsters,” Dilshan said. “These two are very experienced, with both around 10,000 test runs. I am really lucky these two are in the team.”
Dilshan is also expected to fill a middle-order spot with Tharanga Paranavitana, and Lahiru Thirimanne again given the chance to forge an opening partnership.
Vice captain Angelo Mathews and wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene add backbone to the top seven.
Sri Lanka sits fifth in the world test rankings while Pakistan lies sixth and can leapfrog the Sri Lankans only if it wins the series 2-0 or better.