Reinvigorated by the arrival of limited-overs specialists, Sarfraz’s men determined to put Test series horrors behind them.
It’s time for the white ball and coloured clothing to come out of cold storage as Pakistan and Sri Lanka start a five-match One-Day International series, with the first game in Dubai on Friday (October 13).
The two teams have had contrasting fortunes in limited-overs games in recent times with India as the common rival. Pakistan created history with a rare and big win over India in the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 final at The Oval in June. Sarfraz Ahmed's men will hope to continue that same ruthless form.
By contrast, Sri Lanka will look to overcome a 5-0 rout at the hands of Virat Kohli's men on its home ground last month, after a 3-0 hammering in the Test matches that preceded the limited-overs leg. Having upset all calculations by defeating Pakistan 2-0 in the Test series that ended on Tuesday, Sri Lanka will be hoping to carry that momentum to the shorter format as well.
But a change of format, kit and squad is what Pakistan will welcome. It has only Azhar Ali (rested following a knee injury) and pace spearhead Mohammad Amir (shin injury) missing from its Champions Trophy squad. Azhar's absence will allow Ahmed Shehzad to return to the XI while Imam-ul-Haq, 22, will be waiting on the sidelines.
"Yes, I do hope that our fortunes also change with the change in format and players." said Sarfraz, who announced that Faheem Ashraf, Imam, Usman Shinwari and Haris Sohail would sit out the first match.
"We have a lot of hope from this team, which developed as a unit during the Champions Trophy," he added. "Sri Lanka have a good team on paper, so this will be a good series."
The lethargy of the Test matches will also be replaced during the ODIs. Only Sarfraz, Sohail, Babar Azam and Hasan Ali are around from the side that played in the Tests. Reinforcements such as Mohammad Hafeez, Shehzad, Shadab Khan and Fakhar Zaman will certainly reinvigorate the side.
Pakistan's pace reserves will also serve it well in the ODIs, and more than make up for Amir’s absence. Junaid Khan, his long-time partner, will spearhead the attack with Rumman Raees - fresh from his 9 for 25 in an innings in a domestic match -- and the lively Hasan for company.
Pakistan will also hope for a return to form for Babar, who had been spun to repeated failures in the Test matches. He made a thumping start in ODIs with three successive hundreds against Windies and a century in Australia. Pakistan will want him to repeat those feats here. Hafeez, Shehzad and the experienced Shoaib Malik will also bolster the batting.
"Our batsmen are getting good scores, so the combination is good," said Sarfraz, whose team will stay at the sixth place on the ICC ODI table even if it sweeps the series 5-0. But if Sri Lanka achieves a 5-0 score-line in its favour, it will jump two places from its current eighth spot and replace Pakistan in sixth position.
Sri Lanka has suffered a dreadful run in ODIs. It has not beaten a top side in a bilateral series since its series win at home against England in 2014. Since then, it has lost 5-0 to South Africa and India, and was upset 2-3 by Zimbabwe in its own backyard earlier this year. That result nearly cost it direct qualification to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, but it finally managed to seal its ticket at the expense of Windies. Sri Lanka has lost 16 of its last 21 ODIs, managing just four wins in the process.
"We have to do our basics right," said Upul Tharanga, who has been suspended twice on slow over-rate counts in his short captaincy stint. "Pakistan are the Champions Trophy winners, so they are a good side. We need to lift ourselves after losing a few series."
Tharanga is under pressure to deliver the goods, both as captain and as batsman. There were calls to replace him during the India series. He missed two games through suspension, games in which Chamara Kapugedera and Lasith Malinga stepped in to captain the side.
Malinga was left out of this series through poor form, while Angelo Mathews, the former skipper, continues to be on the injury list.
"Unfortunately, Mathews and Malinga are not here but I am confident with the squad and if we keep the momentum of the Tests, then we can do well here," said Tharanga.
The remaining matches will be played in Abu Dhabi (October 16 and 18) and Sharjah (October 20 and 23). The two teams also play three Twenty20 Internationals, the last in Lahore subject to security clearance.
Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed (capt, wk), Ahmed Shehzad, Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Hafeez, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Hasan Ali, Rumman Raees, Junaid Khan.
Sri Lanka (from): Upul Tharanga (capt), Dinesh Chandimal, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Mendis, Milinda Siriwardana, Chamara Kapugedera, Thisara Perera, Seekuge Prasanna, Nuwan Pradeep, Suranga Lakmal, Dushmantha Chameera, Vishwa Fernando, Akila Dananjaya, Jeffrey Vandersay.