Pakistan have won their last four matches over Sri Lanka, and will be keen to win a rare series on Sri Lankan soil.
After a brief Twenty20 contest, which was shared 1-1, Sri Lanka and Pakistan start a five-match ODI series in the outstation of Pallekele with the visitors laying claim to an edge following their 4-1 series win in the UAE last year. Following three straight wins in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, Pakistan beat Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup in March to extend their dominance to four successive wins over the hosts and, despite their inferior position in the ICC rankings, will take the field brimming with confidence.
After a poor performance in the first Twenty20, Pakistan hit back to level the twi-match series. The Man of the Series, the left-arm pacer Sohail Tanvir, has been included in the ODI side and his form on tour could influence the team management to include him as the second pace bowler instead of Aizaz Cheema. Cheema, 32, has been a regular in Pakistan's recent ODI fixtures but Sohail's success in the two Twenty20s, allied by his batting prowess, could earn him an ODI recall for the first time since December 2011. Gul and Saeed Ajmal are sure starters, and Shahid Afridi's presence in the squad means that the left-arm spin of Adbur Rehman is unlikely to feature. The blow-hot-blow-cold Mohammad Sami is likely to also warm the bench.
In the batting department, Pakistan will welcome back their ODI and Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, who will bolster the top order. Pakistan have breached the 250-run mark only twice in their last nine matches, and Misbah has called for an improvement from his batsmen. Misbah averages 40.83 from those nine matches – numbers inflated by three not-out innings – but has just one half-century, so he needs to set the example. Other batsmen in need of runs are Asad Shafiq (averaging 21.40 in his last five matches), Umar Akmal (32.63 in eight innings) and Afridi (21.29 in seven innings). With Nasir Jamshed injured, there is a strong case for Imran Farhat to open the innings with Mohammad Hafeez.
Sri Lanka rested the key pair of Mahela Jayawardene and Lasith Malinga for the second Twenty20, but will not make that mistake in Pallekele. After Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara, there are two seam-bowling spots up for grabs and vying for them will be Dilhara Fernando, Nuwan Pradeep and the two allrounders, Angelo Mathews and Thisara Perera. Most likely the two allrounders will fill in, while Ranga Herath should be the lead spinner in preference to Suchitra Senanayake and the recalled Jeevan Mendis. In the batting, Sri Lanka should continue to keep the left-handed former opening pair of Lahiru Thirimanne and Upul Tharanga in the middle order where they have done well of late. The new coach Graham Ford will know the frailty of Sri Lanka's history of coaches, so shepherding this team to a series win will be at the top of his priorities.
Both teams enter the series in patchy ODI form: Sri Lanka have won only seven of their 19 matches – losing their last four - played in 2012, while Pakistan have won four of nine matches this year. Pakistan's numbers are significantly boosted by the fact that three of those four wins came over Bangladesh (two) and Afghanistan (one).
The last time Pakistan toured Sri Lanka, they lost the ODI series 3-2. This time around, they will eye a better final outcome.
Sri Lanka: 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Dinesh Chandimal, 5 Lahiru Thirimanne, 6 Upul Tharanga, 7 Angelo Mathews, 8 Thisara Perera, 9 Nuwan Kulasekara, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Rangana Herath/Suchitra Senanayake.
Pakistan: 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Imran Farhat, 3 Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 5 Umar Akmal, 6 Asad Shafiq, 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 9 Umar Gul, 1o Saeed Ajmal, 11 Aizaz Cheema/Sohail Tanvir.