ABU DHABI: Pakistan will step into a new Test era without retired batting greats Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq when they take on Sri Lanka in the first Test in Abu Dhabi from Thursday.
Playing without Younis and Misbah is unaccustomed territory for Pakistan, who haven´t had a Test featuring neither of the talismanic, prolific pair in seven years.
It comes as they prepare to welcome the return of full international cricket to their home country next month, when Sri Lanka visit for a Twenty20 game in Lahore.
Together, Younis and Misbah have appeared in 193 Tests, accumulating 15,331 runs, 44 centuries and 15 century stands between them, briefly lifting the team to the top of the Test rankings in August last year.
They have dominated the batting at Pakistan´s venues in United Arab Emirates (UAE), where they have been forced to play home games since a deadly terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore in 2009.
The pair made Pakistan so invincible that they have not lost any of the nine series they have played in UAE, with new captain Sarfraz Ahmed admitting it will be tough to replace them.
“Obviously, it´s not easy to fill the void they left as they were the backbone of our batting,” said Sarfraz.
“Their contributions were immense but now we have to move on.”
Younis is not only Pakistan´s highest Test runs scorer, with 10,099, but the slips fielding specialist also holds the national record of 139 catches in 118 Tests.
Misbah´s calm influence as a batsman, as well as skipper, will also be tough to replace.
Sri Lanka fightback
Fast-rising batsman Babar Azam at four and Haris Sohail, who is yet to play a Test, will attempt to fill the void, while Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq will also be expected to play a leading role.
Azhar was in doubt for the first Test after suffering a knee injury but he has since responded well to treatment, while Yasir Shah will lead the spin attack in a squad with five fast bowlers.
Shah, who took 24 wickets in Pakistan´s 2-1 series win in Sri Lanka two years ago, will be assisted by uncapped spinners Mohammad Asghar and Bilal Asif.
Sri Lanka, who lost 3-0 at home to India last month, will be looking to right the ship after a torrid run of results which has had the media and fans on their back.
But they will be without their key all-rounder and former captain Angelo Mathews, who has been ruled out of the first Test with a calf strain.
Skipper Dinesh Chandimal believes his team will have to be at their best to beat Pakistan, despite the lack of their two long serving players.
“Pakistan will definitely miss Misbah and Younis but we will not underestimate the youngsters they have and (we) have to be at our best to beat them,” he said.
Sri Lanka will be buoyed by the return of their pace spearheads Nuwan Pradeep and Suranga Lakmal, who suffered injuries last month.
But their main hope of winning the two-match series looks likely to hinge on veteran left-arm spinner Rangana Herath, who has 90 wickets in 19 Tests against Pakistan.
Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed (capt), Azhar Ali, Shan Masood, Sami Aslam, Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Usman Salahuddin, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Asghar, Bilal Asif, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Abbas, Wahab Riaz
Sri Lanka: Dinesh Chandimal (capt), Lahiru Thirimanne (vice-capt), Dimuth Karunaratne, Kaushal Silva, Kusal Mendis, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Roshen Silva, Niroshan Dickwella, Rangana Herath, Lakshan Sandakan, Dilruwan Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep, Vishwa Fernando, Lahiru Gamage
Umpires: Ian Gould (ENG) and Nigel Llong (ENG)
TV umpire: Richard Kettleborough (ENG)
ICC match referee: Andy Pycroft (ZIM)