Pakistan have had four months to figure out the next plan of action since Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan collectively called it a day in Test cricket after Pakistan’s series win in West Indies.
That is a decent amount of time to come up with the strategy to ensure that the team that won the ICC Test mace only 12 months ago can continue to establish itself as a leading side in the longest format of the game – something that has been true throughout the ongoing decade.
On Thursday, Pakistan began the next chapter under the captaincy of Sarfraz Ahmed as the first Test against Sri Lanka kicked off in Abu Dhabi. It would be followed by a day and night Test in Dubai, then five ODIs and three T20s, the last of those being scheduled in Lahore at the end of next month after the successful World XI tour earlier this month.
Despite a decent first day for the visitors who finished with 227/4, Sri Lanka are off the back of a Test series whitewash at home against India, which in turn had followed an ODI series defeat against Zimbabwe. Earlier this year they drew the Test series at home against Bangladesh. Before that Sri Lanka were whitewashed away to South Africa.
It’s safe to say that Pakistan would be the side to back against in-transition Sri Lanka, despite the challenge of getting used to life after Misbah and Younus.
“We are probably in an era where we are sick and tired of talking about transition,” interim coach Nic Pothas said in the build up to the first Test. “Sick and tired of about talking about it as a ‘learning period’. It is time to go out and perform, and that is the challenge. You are going to meet a world-class team. We have to move forward.”
“We can have a very good advantage because Pakistan’s main two batsmen are not there in their batting unit,” Sri Lankan captain Dinesh Chandimal believes. “Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq are wily old foxes, and they have played really good cricket throughout their careers. We will have to step up in our as a unit and we have something in our powers to do that.”
Not downplaying the hole that both batsmen and Misbah the skipper has left, Sri Lanka would struggle to save either of the two Test matches, at venues where Pakistan haven’t ever lost a full contested series.
The expected batting reshuffle with Misbah and Younis gone, would likely include Harris Sohail, and the word is that Azhar Ali would be pushed into the middle order as well – which would mean Sami Aslam and Shan Masood up top.
There would of course be added responsibility on Babar Azam as well now, along with skipper Sarfraz Ahmed – who has batting shoes and a thinking cap to fill. But the onus in large parts would be on Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali to take up the mantle.
Even so, if the batting does struggle – which would not be all that surprising – there is enough firepower in the bowling lineup to establish Pakistan as the undisputed favourites.
Yasir Shah especially would be itching to go again, with his last action for Pakistan being taking that wicket off the last ball of his spell to give Pakistan the first ever series win in the West Indies.