Time has come for Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq to carry on the legacy of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq…..
Pakistan came out to bat at Malahide on Day 5 under the grey sky. They needed 160 runs to win in Ireland’s historic Test match. Pakistan are not great chasers of targets in fourth innings and when the totals are small, from nowhere, their batsmen trigger the panic button and lose in a pretty annoying manner. It happened at Galle, Sydney, Abu Dhabi and it could have happened at Malahide as well.
Tim Murtagh and Boyd Rankin plucked three wickets in first five overs. Pakistan were at bay at 14 for 3. The Irish flags started to wave around the stadium with pride and the voice of their fans had been the loudest as Ireland looked well set to become the second team to register a victory in their first ever Test and the fourth team to win a Test after following on. Whereas Pakistan looked shaky and seemed to invite the ghosts of Abu Dhabi at Malahide.
Instead, Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam decided to bury the ghosts of chasing small but tricky totals once and for all. The order of the day was grafting a big partnership and both Imam and Babar did just that. They absorbed the pressure very well and played the ball late to steer Pakistan towards safety. They lost two more wickets quickly, but the job was done to escape an Irish scare.
At Malahide, Pakistan bowled well and more often, their bowlers deliver them the goods which are either spoiled by their fielders or the batters. Indeed, Pakistan’s batting still remains a problem for them. The batting lacks the boldness of Younis Khan and the composure of Misbah-ul-Haq, even though, the likes of Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq have around for a brief, but still, they have not been as consistent as Younis or Misbah when it mattered the most.
Without a doubt, Azhar Ali is one of the notable performers in last two years for Pakistan, but if the track aids the seamers a lot, he tends to lose his tempo. In the English conditions, he had been found wanting in the past. Even in the series against New Zealand last year, the Kiwi pacers had the better of Ali and in the end, he succumbed to pressure.
Ali’s inability to play the ball late and habit of tangling across the crease when the ball pitches in and around that middle and leg stump line, has been troubling him for a while on seaming condition. Ali is more of a front-footed player and thus looks very good on batting-friendly decks, but all hell breaks down when the ball starts to move – he looks a lost soul.
Meanwhile, there can hardly be any doubt about Asad’s talent, but time and again, he failed to rise to the occasion and prove his worth. Yes, he delivered some outstanding knocks in white clothes, sadly, those eye-popping performances became irrelevant due to his lack of form. Technically, Asad is good, but more often he tends to throw away his wicket when is well, which disturb the rhythm of Pakistan batting.
Above all, Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed has a big role to play at number six. Sarfraz is not only a competent wicketkeeper, but as a batsman, he is well-equipped to essay important knocks whenever his team needed him to deliver. Sarfraz has the temperament to handle pressure and Pakistan would need his gutsy displays in England.
There are talented young guns in the team who lacks experience and technique to survive in testing conditions and for which the seniors must act sensibly to carry on Pakistan’s fight in England against James Anderson, Stuart Broad and co. England at home are a different kettle of fish and the conditions suit their pacers to deliver the best. Last year, the Proteas found the going tough and definitely Pakistan would experience the same.
In 2016, the experience of Younis, Misbah and Yasir Shah bailed them out, but right now, Pakistan’s batting lacks the cutting edge to face the heat of English bowlers. To fare well in England, Pakistan’s batting must stick to the basics and cut short the nag of playing adventurous strokes. The mantra of playing well in England is to trust the defence, playing the ball late and occupy the crease as much as possible.
In the two-day game against Leicestershire, Fakhar Zaman and Ali scripted a first-wicket stand of 121 off 28 overs. At number four, the 27-year-old Usman Salahuddin, weighed in with a measured 69 off 154 balls with just five fours. Even though, the Leicestershire attack was somewhat lame, but scoring runs would help to boost the confidence a lot before the tough test against England.