Dubai: Sri Lanka and Pakistan will use their two-match series in Dubai starting on Wednesday to size each other up ahead of the World Twenty20 in three months' time.
Pakistan, fourth in the Twenty20 rankings, are also aiming to topple Sri Lanka from the top of the standings by winning both the matches, the second of which takes place on Friday. "Sri Lanka are a top side, so this is in itself a motivation to beat the number one side, and if we win both, it will lift us to the top of the world," Pakistan captain Mohammad Hafeez said.
If the series is a 1-1 draw, the teams will maintain their current rankings while a 2-0 loss will push Hafeez's team down to fifth.
Pakistan go into the matches well prepared after playing four Twenty20 games against South Africa last month. They also overcame a tough resistance from minnows Afghanistan by six wickets in a last-ball thriller in Sharjah on Sunday - the first Twenty20 between the two countries.
Pakistan will be at full strength and boosted by the return of offspinner Saeed Ajmal, who skipped Sunday's game to rest back home.
"We leaked quite a few runs against Afghanistan, so we will have to be at our best to beat Sri Lanka and Ajmal's return will help that," said Hafeez, who was Man of the Match against Afghanistan for his 42 not out.
Sri Lanka, led by Dinesh Chandimal, will have to overcome rustiness after most of their recent matches at home were ruined by rain. Last month, they beat New Zealand 1-0 with the other match abandoned because of inclement weather.
"The advantage Pakistan's got is that they have played a lot of international cricket in the last six-eight months whereas unfortunately we haven't played nearly as much because of weather and various other things," said coach Graham Ford.
Sri Lanka are hoping their batting will see them through with the experienced Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara providing a contrast to Pakistan's fragile and unpredictable batsmen. Ajantha Mendis and Sachithra Senanayake are the two specialist spinners in the bowling spearheaded by paceman Lasith Malinga.
Pakistan finished runners-up in the first World Twenty20 held in South Africa in 2007 before winning the title in England two years later. Pakistan defeated Sri Lanka in the final at Lord's - a defeat which Sri Lanka avenged by winning the semi-final in Colombo on their way to runners-up finish in the fourth edition last year.
The fifth edition will be held in Bangladesh from March 16 to April 6.
Sri Lanka: Dinesh Chandimal (capt), Lasith Malinga, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kusal Perera, Kumar Sangakkara, Angelo Mathews, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kithuruwan Vithanage, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Seekkuge Prasanna, Suranga Lakmal, Sachithra Senanayake, Ajantha Mendis, Ramith Rambukwella.
Pakistan: Mohammad Hafeez (capt), Ahmed Shehzad, Sharjeel Khan, Sohaib Maqsood, Umar Amin, Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi, Zulfiqar Babar, Bilawal Bhatti, Junaid Khan, Sohail Tanvir, Anwar Ali, Saeed Ajmal, Haris Sohail.