Pakistan have been playing their home games at the UAE for seven years now. In these seven years, they had played a total of 9 test series till September 2017; winning five of them while drawing four and losing none. Sri Lanka just changed that and made it 5-4-1 after the 2nd test finished between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at Dubai on 10th of October, 2017. Yes, Pakistan just lost their first ever test series in the UAE and it happened right after their legendary captain Misbah ul Haq and all-time highest run scorer in Tests, Younis Khan decided to call it quits. Pakistan lost both tests and slipped to 7th in Test rankings just a year after they held the mace for the number one team in Test Cricket.
There were a few telling reasons why Pakistan failed miserably in this series. The first and most important one was the team selection. During Misbah’s era, Pakistan almost always opted for a two-spinners attack in the UAE. Surprisingly though, the new Captain Sarfraz decided to go for one spinner and three pacers attack in both matches. UAE’s wickets have always been known to favor the spinners and for seamers, they always spelled hard work. Yasir Shah did his job but unfortunately for Pakistan, he lacked a partnership and Sri Lanka were able to rack up piles of runs in the first innings of both games, which eventually resulted in Pakistan being on the losing side. Not going for a second specialist spinner was a blunder of gigantic proportions considering the history of the venues and also considering how well the Sri Lankans spinners performed.
The selection of the two openers also raised a few eyebrows since they haven’t been performing all that well despite been given plenty of chances. Shan Masood and Sami Aslam both average in the 20s after having played nearly 30 Test innings each. The pace at which they try and construct their innings is also very outdated considering how the rest of the world is approaching Test Cricket now.
Pakistan’s selection committee is facing a lot of questions over how they are conveniently overlooking regular performers in the domestic arena. Fawad Alam looked like a natural replacement for a mainstay in the middle order given his excellent run of form in the domestic circuit for a good few years now but he was overlooked yet again. Babar Azam’s poor run in Test Cricket continued and he failed to perform when he was needed to, the most. Asad Shafiq’s performance up the order showed yet again that his best number to bat on is number 6 so Pakistan needs a solid middle order batsman to avoid the crumble.
Another key factor in Pakistan’s miserable performance was the approach while chasing the target. The entire top order in both tests crumbled after trying to defend against the Sri Lankan bowlers on bowling friendly conditions on the 5th day. No intent was shown to score the runs. Pakistan needed a small total of 136 in the first test to get over the line but the negative approach of the top order left Pakistan with no chance. Similarly, in the 2nd innings of the 2nd test, Pakistan’s top order amassed only 50 runs in the first 30 odd overs and gave away 5 top order wickets. The overly defensive approach left Sarfraz and Asad Shafiq with a hell lot to do and despite them putting together a great partnership of 173, they failed to get Pakistan over the line.
One of the key factors in Pakistan winning their last away test series at Sri Lanka under Misbah ul Haq’s captaincy was the way Pakistani batsmen counter attacked Rangana Herath. The Herath threat was neutralized probably for the first time and Pakistan ended up winning the series then. Pakistani batsmen attacked him and didn’t let him settle during the Sri Lanka tour. Herath has had great time against Pakistan amassing 100 scalps in 20 matches. Once Herath was neutralized, Pakistan found it easy to deal with the rest of Sri Lankan bowling attack. This time around though, Herath came back to his menacing best and gave a man-of-the-match performance by taking 10 wickets in the first match. Pakistani batsmen somehow forgot to deal with him and the overly defensive approach against Herath worked in the left arm spinner’s favor.
Pakistan’s pace bowling was also quite underwhelming. Amir especially looked out of sorts. Wahab Riaz (despite his one good spell in the final innings) looked erratic as always and Abbas, albeit consistent, didn’t pose a considerable threat. Absence of a quality off-spinner was evident too. Muhammad Hafeez can be the option in that case because Pakistan doesn’t have an experienced off spinner in the ranks even in domestic Cricket with the exception of Bilal Asif (who is 32 and yet to debut in Tests for Pakistan). The only positives during this series were the performances of Yasir Shah and the test debutant Harris Sohail.
It looks like after the departure of the legendary Younis Khan and Misbah ul Haq, Pakistan’s Test Cricket and the management have got their work cut out for them. Yes, it is too early to judge Sarfraz as a captain, he must be given a decent run as the skipper to steady the ship. He has got all the ingredients of a good captain in the limited overs format, let’s see if he’s going to prove as a good Test Captain as well or will Pakistan have to look for other options.
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