Resurgent Pakistan eye Sri Lanka scalp

COLOMBO  - Pakistan are hoping to build on their impressive record over the past year when they take the field during the full tour of Sri Lanka starting later this week. “The task here is to win, but the longer goal is to take Pakistan high up in the rankings in all three formats,” Pakistan coach Dav Whatmore said at the series launch in Colombo on Monday night.“It’s a simple statement, but it requires a lot of work,” he said ahead of the seven-week tour which comprises three Tests, five one-day internationals and two Twenty20 games. The Pakistanis have come a long way since the spot-fixing scandal in England in 2010 led to unprecedented jail terms for Test captain Salman Butt and premier fast bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer.The talented but often unpredictable national team have shown consistent winning form over the last 12 months despite being unable to play at home due to security concerns since an attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore in 2009. Pakistan have won seven of their last nine Test matches, including a 3-0 whitewash of top-ranked England in the United Arab Emirates earlier this year.Their record in limited-overs cricket has been equally impressive, winning 16 of their last 22 one-day games, topped by the Asia Cup title triumph in Bangladesh in March. The two T20 games in southern Hambantota on Friday and Sunday provide both teams with a useful build-up for the World Twenty20 tournament to be held in Sri Lanka in September-October. The Lankans have had an inconsistent year in which they managed just two wins in 14 Tests with six defeats, and lost 21 of their last 35 one-day internationals. Lankan captain  Jayawardene praised Pakistan’s recent record and saw a good challenge ahead for his home team. “If you take their performances in the last six months, they have performed really well in all three formats,” he said. “To play them in our conditions is a good challenge.” Australian Whatmore, a former Sri Lankan coach who guided Arjuna Ranatunga’s men to the World Cup title in 1996, said Pakistan were ready for what would be a tough tour on the field.“Although Pakistan is unable to play any international matches at home due to the security concerns, they managed to practice together before coming to Sri Lanka,” the coach said. “We had a pretty decent two-week camp before we came here.”Whatmore insisted his insider’s knowledge of Sri Lankan cricket would not give Pakistan any advantage. “It was a long time ago when I finished with Sri Lanka and a lot of water has passed under the bridge,” he said. “I maintain some friendships which are always good but the task here is to win.”Pakistan’s new T20 captain Mohammad Hafeez said victory over Sri Lanka in all three formats in the United Arab Emirates last year had boosted his team’s morale. “We all know Sri Lanka are always good on their own soil, but we have had good success against them in the UAE,” said Hafeez, who will be vice-captain to Misbah-ul-Haq in the Tests and the one-dayers.Sri Lanka’s chairman of selectors, Ashantha de Mel, said his team needed to be wary of Pakistan’s leading spinners Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman, who will play a key role in the Test and one-day series. “It is the Pakistani spinners we need to be careful of,” he said. “Ajmal and Rehman are of a different class compared to our spinners. Only Rangana Herath comes anywhere close to them.”Tour schedule:June 1:  1st T20, HambantotaJune 3: 2nd T20 , HambantotaJune 7:    1st ODI, PallekeleJune 9:    2nd ODI, PallekeleJune 13:    3rd ODI, ColomboJune 16:    4th ODI, ColomboJune 18:    5th ODI, ColomboJune 22:   1st Test, GalleJune 30:  2nd Test, ColomboJuly 8:    3rd Test, Pallekele

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