LAHORE: Pakistan failed to score 136 on the final day in the Abu Dhabi Test – the lowest failed chase in Test history for Pakistan. It was also the first defeat for Pakistan at Abu Dhabi, and meant that Sarfraz didn’t get off to the best of starts in his stint as the Test captain.
That all of this came against Sri Lanka – a team blanked 3-0 twice this year against South Africa (away) and India (home), and that had failed to beat Bangladesh (home) and struggled to do so against Zimbabwe (home) – of course makes the abovementioned facts all the more ominous.
Sri Lanka have been a team in transition for quite some time, and while Pakistan might have just begun a similar period of their own, the fact that the events transpired in the UAE is the biggest cause for concern.
It’s in the UAE that Pakistan have built a fortress with pretty much the same squad that faced Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi – barring two ominous omissions.
But, clearly, the time to contemplate over the past is long gone. For, barring a win in five days’ time, Pakistan would lose their first ever full Test series at the Emirates.
The Dubai Test that starts on Friday (Oct 6) will also be day and night. Whether that works in Pakistan’s favour or hinders the ‘home’ side is up for conjecture.
For, the pink ball and evening/night sessions would aid the pacers. But Pakistan’s Test success in the past couple of years has been founded on Yasir Shah’s 150 odd wickets, eight of which were taken in Abu Dhabi.
The word is that Wahab Riaz would replace the injured Hasan Ali. Usman Salahuddin might be considered as well, considering the batting on the final day – but who would he replace, since the debutant Haris Sohail was easily Pakistan’s best batsman in the first Test?
Maybe Pakistan should consider playing Mohammad Asghar in a twin-spin attack and go with two pacers, despite the day and night conditions. Pakistan’s success in the UAE has been based on a two pronged spin attack – from the Saeed Ajmal-Abdur Rehman partnership to Yasir Shah and Zulfiqar Babar – and maybe they should persist with the same.
For the fast bowlers, Mohammed Amir would need to be among the wickets and prove himself as the leader of the pace attack, especially under the lights, with Pakistan needing a win to salvage a draw in the series.
Meanwhile, even though there mightn’t be any changes in the batting personnel, or even the order, there would have to be a clear change in intent.
While following the Misbah textbook for success in UAE – slug it out for 4 days and then sprint to the finish line just at the end – is a good idea, it used to rest on two match-winning proven spinners in the Pakistani lineup, and with two batting maestros in the middle order to save the day should things go haywire elsewhere.
Furthermore, Sri Lanka now officially have Pakistan’s bogeyman– the first bowler to take 100 wickets against Pakistan – and anything that the ‘hosts’ leave for late, would equally benefit Rangana Herath, who also became the first left-arm spinner to take 400 Test wickets.
More importantly, a change in the batting intensity would be needed since Pakistan will be the ones chasing the game, needing to enforce a result – while Sri Lanka would be over the moon with a draw.
While Pakistan should look to bat Sri Lanka out of the game after their first innings, regardless of whether it comes before or after the visitors – they would need to do it at a much quicker pace, so as to reduce the draw as a distinct possibility in the last day and a half.
But there are no two ways about it: Pakistan can ill-afford a batting collapse in Dubai, regardless of how well they bowl to Sri Lanka.
The onus of the defeat in the first Test falls squarely on the batsmen. And it is they, spearheaded by Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, who would need to take the responsibility to bring Pakistan back in the series.