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The flipside of Pakistan cricket

After winning at Malahide and Lord’s, Pakistan exposed their weaknesses against England at Leeds and had to suffer the consequences

The flipside of Pakistan cricket

Pakistan cricket team has concluded its Test tour of Ireland and England under the leadership of Sarfraz Ahmed. Pakistan was offered the tour in the first half of the English summer as underdogs with three warm-up matches against English counties, Kent, Northamptonshire and Leicestershire, one  Test against Ireland which was the first ever Test played by the hosts, since they were awarded the Test status by ICC in June 2017. Then there were two Tests against England followed by a couple of T20 Internationals against Scotland.

Pakistan played their first match against Kent county which was drawn. The highlight of the match was 61 runs by Imam Ul Haq that helped him win the Test cap at Lords. Pakistan won their second warm-up match against Northamptonshire by 9 wickets and restored confidence with Asad Shafiq scoring 186, Imam 59 and Shadab Khan taking 6/77.

With their tail up, Pakistan won the one off Test against Ireland at Malahide played from 11th to 15th of May 2018. The only century scored in the Test was 118 by Kevin O Brien of Ireland. Muhammad Abbas was brilliant with the new ball claiming 9 wickets in the Test. Faheem Ashraf and Imam Ul Haq shined as batsmen. Pakistan won the Test against Ireland by 5 wickets.

Pakistan reached England with a Test win under their belt and played a two-day practice match against Leicestershire on 19-20 May before the first Test against England. Pakistani batting showed further signs of improvement when the tourists scored 321/9 in which Azhar Ali scored 73 runs in the drawn match.

Pakistan team was looking sharp and confident. The real test of the young Pakistani team started against the full strength England side at Lords from 24th May 2018. The English team was rather over confident when Joe Root won the toss and elected to bat on a green top a decision that he must have regretted when Mohammad Amir and Muhammad Abbas claimed eight wickets among themselves and England were reduced to 184 in the first innings. Pakistan looked sharp in the field accepted their chances and a defiant 68 of Babar Azam helped them put up 363 on the score board. Pakistan won the Test by nine wickets.

The jubilation was short lived as England carried out a strict post-mortem of their defeat and made three changes for the second and last Test at Leeds.  Despite Babar Azam’s injury at Lords that ruled him out of the second Test against England, Pakistan skipper after winning the toss elected to bat on a rather easy looking pitch.  This was a fatal mistake that proved very costly for Pakistan. Sam Curran from England and Usman Salahuddin from Pakistan made their Test debuts. While Stuart Broad ran through the Pakistan top order batting with his six wickets in two innings and Jos Buttler came handy after being dropped at the boundary scoring 80 valuable runs, England won the Test by an innings and 55 runs.

A very interesting feature of the two Tests was that both tests culminated in 4 and 3 days respectively. After all what went wrong with Pakistan that very easily lost second Test without showing any spine in its batting and bowling. The champions of Lords looked rusty in the field, the batsmen failed to negotiate the moving red cherry and the Pakistani bowlers looked tired in the second Test.

The debacle started with the wrong call to bat first on a tricky wicket and Pakistan instead of capitalizing on their bowling strength, exposed their fragile batting to English bowlers, who bowled with aggression and precision.

Despite good bowling of Amir, Abbas, Hassan and Faheem, it was obvious that Pakistan lacked a genuine speedster who could bowl effective short-pitched balls to keep the batsmen on the back foot and reverse swing the old ball to rip through the tail.

The question also hangs around the batting form and fitness of Sarfraz Ahmad as a reliable middle-order batsman and Test captain. He was short of ideas, to unsettle his opponents, when the going was tough. It appeared as if Sarfraz was following a script received from his coach and manager with minimum input from his own.

It was strange to notice the flipside of young champions who were seen struggling against England in every department within a couple of days. In a nutshell, Pakistan’s performance in the second Test exposed the mental weakness of our players who couldn’t sustain the pressure built by England. Sarfraz as Captain did his best but failed to steer the ship in turbulent waters. This aspect of Pakistan cricket needs more attention, because Test captaincy is a highly demanding job that needs exceptional leadership traits, good physical fitness, capacity to think out of the box and the ability to steer the team when the chips are down. To my mind, Sarfraz needs to improve in all four aspects.

Tours to England and Australia had always been a Test for Pakistan’s batting and captaincy. Sarfraz is an excellent choice as captain in shorter formats of game but PCB management shall pounder hard to reconsider their decision of giving the responsibility to Sarfraz to lead Pakistan in all formats of the game including the Tests. It is putting extensive pressure on him and is affecting his own batting form.

Finding a reliable opening pair for Pakistan Test side, a genuine speed merchant with ability to swing the old ball and return of Mohammad Hafeez and Yasir Shah in the team will boost our resources. The team has definitely improved its physical standards but a lot is yet to be done to make this outfit mentally strong and more consistent. With Steve Rixon deciding to leave Pakistan as fielding coach, PCB shall not only find a new fielding coach, but also look for a proper sports psychologist to work with the team on a long-term basis.

 

Aamir Bilal

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