DUBLIN: There ofcourse is much cause for joy for Pakistan following Tuesday’s win over Ireland, in what was the first ever Test match for the hosts. There is the fact that it was Sarfraz Ahmed’s first ever Test win, since taking over from Misbah-ul-Haq. The team seems to have unearthed two all-rounders in Faheem Ashraf and Shadab Khan. And the fact that Imam-ul-Haq played the match-winning innings to help Pakistan address the omnipresent opening concerns, and indeed the backlash over his selection.
But on the flipside, there is also the reality that if Pakistan were chasing another 30-40 runs, on the final day, we could just as easily be talking about a historic win for Ireland. Winning is always winning, but when the margin of triumph is so fine, against a side making its debut in the toughest format of the game, there is a lot to worry about as well.
This is notwithstanding the fact that the Irish side collectively had more first-class experience than the Pakistani side. This post-MisYou Pakistan is, and will remain for a while, a work in progress. But whether or not the win over Ireland counts as progress would become clearer when Pakistan take on England in the two-Test series.
As things stand though, considering that Pakistan’s last Test assignment was a whitewash against Sri Lanka at home, this away win statistically definitely constitutes progress. But the overall performance of the side was a bit of a mixed bag at best.
The 118 run partnership between Faheem (83) and Shadab (55) in the first innings, eventually turned out to be decisive, along with the Inam-ul-Haq Babar Azam 126 run stand in the fourth innings. What is promising for Pakistan is that these two pairs, feature two batsmen who were debuting, one playing his second match and Babar Azam in desperate need of a Test score.
Barring Asad Shafiq’s 62 in the first innings, none of the three main batsmen for Pakistan – Azhar, Asad and Sarfraz – contributed anything in the other five innings put together. That would absolutely need to change for Pakistan to have any chance against England.
As far as the bowling was concerned, Mohammed Abbas with nine wickets in the match was comfortably the pick of the bowlers, and should be leading the line against England as well. While Mohammed Amir got five wickets in the match – with another couple of drops off him – he too will be critical against England, but there are signs that he mightn’t be playing too much Test cricket in the long run.
Playing Shadab and Faheem meant that Pakistan had five bowlers and eight batsmen on paper, but it’s still too premature to dub either an all-rounder, despite the evident positive signs. While Shadab did take 10 wickets against Northamptonshire in the warm-up, his struggle in the second Ireland innings – when he should’ve been more effective – shows he has a lot to learn in the longest format. Faheem too struggled to make a mark with the ball in the match.
It is likely that Pakistan might go with the same combination against England, but they absolutely cannot put the burden of undoing the English side on the younger lot. Azhar would have to find form, with Asad and Sarfraz contributing a lot more with the bat as well.
While the England away series is a tough prospect for any of the established sides as well, what the Pakistani youngsters have ahead of them is a wonderful opportunity: do great and become instant heroes in the original form of the game. But it is in more established Azhar and Asad duo that Pakistan seek replacements for MisYou.