Mickey Arthur unleashed his anger at the Pakistani batsmen soon after it became evident that they had handed the opening Test to South Africa on a platter at Centurion last week. His criticism of the Pakistani players was justified. But it was also a classic case of pot calling the kettle black.
The South African coach is equally responsible for Pakistan’s meek surrender at Centurion. Ever since he has taken over as Pakistan’s coach, his team in whites has rarely shown any spine. What happened to Pakistan’s batting in the first Test wasn’t a one-time disaster. It’s been a pattern. And it seems highly unlikely that things would change for the tourists in the remaining two matches of the Test series in South Africa.
The writing is on the wall for Sarfraz Ahmed as his Test captaincy has been on the line for quite a while now. The way he and his team have performed in the five-day format in recent times (especially in a 1-2 series loss against New Zealand in the UAE), Sarfraz should be sacked as Test captain. But what about Arthur and the team’s other coaches including batting coach Grant Flower? Where do they stand?
Sarfraz’s sacking won’t serve any purpose if that’s the only change made by Pakistan in their Test squad after the series against South Africa. Then there are players like Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq. The senior duo were supposed to fill the vacuum left by the exit of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. Both of them have utterly failed to do that. I agree that their job isn’t an easy one, especially in South Africa. I also agree with Dean Elgar who said after South Africa’s triumph in the opening Test that his country is the toughest place in the world to bat. But that’s what professional cricketers are supposed to do. They have to perform in all conditions. From where I see it, if less experienced batsmen like Imam-ul-Haq and Shan Masood can score runs then why can’t more seasoned ones Azhar and Asad. They need to be asked tough questions. Maybe they need to sit out for a while and let others try and do the job. But can we trust batters like Harris Sohail, who have been equally inconsistent?
It’s one of the many questions that need answers as Pakistan end 2018 on a sorry note. The year began with a 5-0 thrashing for the Pakistan in an ODI series in New Zealand and ended with a defeat in the Boxing Day Test at Centurion. There were some happy outings in between but most of them came in the Twenty20 Internationals. Pakistan’s complete domination of the game’s shortest format was the only saving grace for Sarfraz and his men.
As we enter 2019, a year which will see the ICC World Cup taking place in England in the summer, we know that if Pakistan are to climb the top of the Test and ODI mountains they will need to find a new Sherpa. Sarfraz might be Pakistan’s Tenzing in the T20 format but he has been unable to really guide them in the other two formats. I know that under his command, Pakistan swam against the tide and won the ICC Champions Trophy but subsequent results in ODIs are a proof that the team somehow punched above its weight in England last year. It has since been cut down to size. Pakistan could only manage one solitary ODI victory in 2018 against teams other than Hong Kong, Afghanistan or Zimbabwe. It played like a disjointed unit in the Asia Cup in the UAE and even struggled against minnows like Afghanistan.
If Pakistan are to climb the top of the Test and ODI mountains they will need to find a new Sherpa. Sarfraz might be Pakistan’s Tenzing in the T20 format but he has been unable to really guide them in the other two formats
The Asia Cup debacle was one of the lowest points for Pakistan. Another low point was the collapse in the opening Test against New Zealand in Abu Dhabi. In a match they were supposed to win comfortably, Pakistan lost six wickets for 24 runs to crash to a four-run defeat. They went on to lose the series.
The high point for Pakistan came in May at Lord’s when Pakistan surprised England with a nine-wicket victory under new captain Sarfraz. Many hailed the win as a new beginning but unfortunately it turned out to be a false dawn.
There was, however, nothing false about Pakistan’s T20 conquests during 2018. The men in green consolidated their position as the world’s number one team in the T20 format, winning 17 of the 19 matches they played during the year. They won 11 series on the bounce, including against West Indies (three), New Zealand (two), and Australia.
The one big question that comes to mind is why are Pakistan so good in T20s and quite bad in the other two formats? The simple answer is that they rely too much on their bowlers to win matches. Pakistan are very much a single-dimensional team – a great bowling unit that is often carrying the dead weight of an unreliable batting line-up. It’s easier for bowlers to win matches in the shortest format of the game. They can even defend smaller totals like 120 in a T20 game. But in Tests it’s tougher to win matches if your batsmen aren’t even crossing the 200-run mark. That’s what happened at Centurion where Pakistan scored 181 and 190. Things could have been different had Pakistan managed to add 100 odd runs to their aggregate total in the first Test.
It is important that Pakistan work out a plan to tackle the many problems facing their Test and ODI squads. They need to find Sarfraz’s replacement but perhaps more importantly they need to scrutinise the performance of Arthur and his support staff. Unless that’s done and remedial measures are taken it would be quite unlikely that 2019 would be any better for the Pakistan team than the current year.