ABU DHABI - Pakistan's captain Misbah-ul-Haq has said his team will not be complacent even though they are more in touch with the demands of Test cricket than their opponents Sri Lanka have been of late. Pakistan played South Africa in a 1-1 draw in the UAE in October, while Sri Lanka has not had a Test since March.
"We are in good shape and we are confident but we aren't going to be complacent," Misbah said on the eve of the first Test. "Every game is a new game and you can't just sit and think we are good so it's easy. But it's not the case, we need to put things right in every game and still have to get the basics rights. Sri Lanka are a top side and competitive one to play with, so you need to be at your best to do well against them. We have bowlers who can really challenge the opposition and I am confident we going to put good show."
Pakistan have played Sri Lanka in 11 of their 42 Tests in the last five years, the most against any country, and Misbah said the familiarity between the teams posed a challenge. The teams last played against each other in June-July 2012, in Sri Lanka "Sometime it isn't easy for the players," Misbah said. "When you play regularly against each other it's difficult to find weakness and find new ideas, but it's fine. As far as we are playing cricket, it's good. What is important is to play Test cricket regularly, whoever the opposition is. At least your players are getting exposure and they get the taste of this form of the game, even if you play excessively against same opponent, it eventually is beneficial."
Pakistan recalled M Hafeez to the squad for the Tests after he scored three centuries in the ODIs. Misbah didn't say specifically that Hafeez would play, but it is understood he will replace Azhar Ali in the XI. "When your all batsmen are in form then it's difficult to choose one. But it's better to have more choices of in-form players. So that you can pick the better option for the team according to the opposition's form and strength."
There was uncertainty over whether fast bowler Umar Gul, who was included in the Test squad after recovering from injury, would play. Former coach Waqar Younis had objected to his selection in the squad. Misbah was non-committal. "I can't say much on this but we are looking closely how it goes. He (Gul) is in good form, played two four-day games back home and played ODI as well. So it's a call that we are going to take tomorrow before the final look at the pitch."
Sri Lankan captain Angelo Mathews admitted his team faces the challenge of overcoming rustiness as they play their first Test for nine months when they line up against Pakistan. Sri Lanka have not played since beating minnows Bangladesh 1-0 in a two-Test series at home in March and their last Test against a major opponent was in January when they played Australia.
"We are playing a Test match after a long time and that's a challenge for us as a team. We've played some four-day cricket, but it's not as good as playing a Test," said Mathews. "There will be a bit of rustiness - there might be." South Africa failed the challenge when they played Pakistan in October -- also their first since February -- and lost in Abu Dhabi by seven wickets. However, the Proteas, ranked number one in Tests, went on to level the series 1-1 with a win in the second Test in Dubai.
Sri Lanka's second challenge in the three-Test series will be to thwart wily Saeed Ajmal, and Mathews showed confidence his team will cope well against the Pakistani off-spinner. "Ajmal has been talked about a lot in the team and we've made plans about how we are going to play him," said Mathews of Ajmal who took 18 wickets in Pakistan's 1-0 win in the three Tests here in 2011. "There's good experience in the team, if you take (Kumar) Sangakkara, Mahela (Jayawardene) and Prasanna Jayawardene. With that experience we should be able play him well, give him no wickets and make big totals."
Sangakkara accumulated a mammoth 516 in the three Tests in 2011 and then amassed 490 in three Tests when Sri Lanka beat Pakistan at home last year. The second Test will be played in Dubai (January 8-12) and the third in Sharjah (January 16-20).
PAKISTAN: Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), M Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad, Khurram Manzoor, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Younus Khan, Adnan Akmal, Junaid Khan, Saeed Ajmal, Abdul Rehman, Umar Gul, Rahat Ali, M Talha, Bilawal Bhatti
SRI LANKA: Angelo Mathews (capt), Dinesh Chandimal, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Kaushal Silva, Dimuth Karunaratne, Lahiru Thirimanne, Prasanna Jayawardene, Nuwan Kulasekara, Suranga Lakmal, Shaminda Eranga, Nuwan Pradeep, Sachithra Senanayake, Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera, Vishwa Fernando.