“As a captain, Sarfraz needs to play a proactive role in this journey”
Following Pakistan’s Asia Cup debacle, skipper Sarfraz Ahmed had insisted the media not to press the panic button. Now, within a gap of 10 days, the on-field performance of his team will once again be monitored closely as Pakistan are gearing up to battle Australia in a two-Test series, starting from Sunday (September 7) at the Dubai International cricket stadium. Hence, the onus will be on the Pakistan team, especially on skipper Sarfraz to come up with an improved performance and answer his critics.
However, with a relatively inexperienced squad, it won’t be a cakewalk for Pakistan to go past Australia, even if they have a depleted team.
After the shambolic performance in Asia Cup, the entire cricket fraternity in Pakistan is desperate for results. Hence, against Australia don’t think the Pakistan team management will go for any experimentation. They will adapt their tried and tested formula of spin-friendly tracks and unleash their spin-brigade on the Aussies batting line-up. This strategy was crystal clear when the Pakistan A team, which took on the Australians in a four-day warm-up game, did not have a quality spinner. It was a clear ploy to deny the Australians the opportunity of a decent practice against spin prior to the Test series.
Pakistan, meanwhile, won’t have the services of leg-spinner Shadab Khan, at least in the first Test as he is yet to fully recover from the groin injury. However, there are the likes of Yasir Shah, Mohammad Nawaz and Bilal Asif, who will be more than handy on those slow-low UAE pitches.
Meanwhile, skipper Sarfraz and coach Mickey Arthur need to be lauded for the last moment selection of veteran Mohammad Hafeez. This move will bolster the inexperienced Pakistan top-order that has Imam-ul-Haq, who has played three Tests, and Fakhar Zaman, who is uncapped, alongside regular Test opener Azhar Ali. Also, Hafeez’s action has been cleared by the ICC. So, he can chip in with his more than handy off-spin as well.
Nevertheless, Sarfraz’s own performance has been a concern as well. Seems the leadership duties have taken its toll on his game, especially with the bat in hand. In international cricket, he hasn’t gone past the 50-run mark since scoring a half-century against Sri Lanka in Champions Trophy last year. He has averaged 17.2 since then.
After the defeat against Bangladesh in the recent Asia Cup, Sarfraz had revealed that he had not slept for six nights, thanks to the pressure that he had to face as a leader of this team. And now within 10 days, he will be leading Pakistan once again on the field, this time in a Test match, under these extreme conditions in the UAE. So, there is bound to be some sort of fatigue factor.
Perhaps keeping Sarfraz’s form and workload in mind, the selectors have included additional wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan in the 17-member squad. So, there will be extreme performance pressure on the Pakistan captain for sure.
In 2014, when Australia were in the UAE for a Test series, Misbah Ul Haq’s team played an attacking brand of cricket. The conditions favoured Yasir and Co. and Pakistan just did not allow Australia to gain any sort of momentum throughout the entire series. Sarfraz and his team should emulate the same approach here. Without the likes of Steven Smith and David Warner, there is a significant amount of pressure on this Aussie batting line-up. Pakistan have to explore this vulnerability.
Remember, going into the World Cup, Pakistan have a very packed schedule. After playing the Test series against Australia and New Zealand back-to-back, they will tour South Africa for a full series. From there they will come back to the UAE for an ODI series against Australia. It will be followed by the limited-overs’ tour of the United Kingdom and then the flagship event, World Cup. Hence, Pakistan dressing room needs to erase the past memories and buckle up quickly. Here, as a captain, Sarfraz needs to play a proactive role in this journey.