When Pakistan defeated England in May at Lords, it was believed that Pakistan test team has finally returned to its winning ways. However, the optimism was short lived and Pakistan suffered an innings defeat at Leeds a week later. As always, Pakistan’s batting line up came under scrutiny which is short of experience since the departure of Misbah-Ul-Haq and Younis khan. The series ended with the spoils being shared between both teams, however, Pakistan would have liked a better result, considering the present form of English Test Side.
With the home season in UAE beginning in October, Pakistan is scheduled to play five test matches against Australia (2) and New Zealand (3). It is worth remembering that Pakistan suffered humiliating 2 – Nil defeat at UAE against a relatively weaker Sri Lanka last year. At present, Pakistan’s young test side is facing a host of problems. On the tour of Ireland and England, Pakistan had gone in last three test matches with 5 specialized batsmen, 3 all-rounders (Sarfraz Ahmed, Faheem Asharaf and Shadab khan) and 3 x fast bowlers. With recent batting debacles, it is likely that Pakistan may slot in an additional batsman and Faheem Asharaf may lose his spot in the side. Additional batsmen can be added in lower order in the form of Osman Salahuddin or playing Sami Aslam / Fakhar Zaman as opener with Azhar Ali batting at No 3, where he has done really well in the past.
The opening position of Imam-Ul-Haq and Azhar Ali has not prospered since they have joined. While Imam-Ul-Haq has shown signs of talent, but Azhar Ali is going through a rare slump in form. Selectors had sent Fakhar Zaman and Sami Aslam as reserve openers on the tour, however, they only participated in side games. Our middle order comprising Haris Sohail, Asad Shafiq and Babar Azam had few starts to their names but they have no real match winning innings against their names in last few matches.
While selectors may not like to tinker with the combination but they will be under pressure at UAE especially Asad Shafique who is required to play as an anchor in upcoming matches, a role played by Misbah in the past. While the performance at Shadab Khan and Faheem Akhtar had been excellent with the bat, the performance of Sarfraz Ahmed is rather poor with the bat. With the conditions suiting his style of play in UAE, Sarfraz Ahmed needs to step up his game. His poor form with the bat is also affecting his captaincy.
The bowling combination will definitely change as per requirements of conditions in UAE. Historically, Pakistan have played with two fast bowlers and two spinners each. However, in England, Pakistan played with three fast bowlers (Muhammad Amir, Muhammad Abbas and Hassan Ali) and Shadab Khan as lone spinner. On gaining fitness Yasir Shah is certain to join the side and likely candidate to lose his place is Hassan Ali. The teams do not play two leggies as captains like finger spinners for control and diversity in attack. Available player for this role is Muhammad Nawaz who is also a good lower order batsman. Team management may drop Shadab in favor of Nawaz or may take the bold decision of going with three spinners and drop Faheem Ashraf. However, the team combination will depend a lot on the conditions in UAE.
In nutshell, we are going to see a different Pakistan side turning up in UAE. Pakistan’s ODI and T20 sides are settled and have shown signs of improvement however, test side still needs fine tuning. Coach Mikey Arther is optimistic about better results, however performance of batsmen will be vital. The ability to score 400 plus scores in 1st innings in order to put pressure on opposition is still elusive since the MisYou era. With the introduction of test championship, this home season will be pivotal for growth of Pakistan’s test team in coming years.