Sar­fraz ush­ers in a new era for Pak­istan

1st Test in Abu Dhabi

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Test cricket is not easy. But some as­sign­ments are eas­ier than oth­ers. Pak­istan’s se­ries against Sri Lanka falls in that cat­e­gory.

Dis­cus­sions around this se­ries have es­sen­tially fo­cused two names who won’t be part of the con­test. Pak­istan have grown used to Mis­bah-ul Haq and You­nis Khan bail­ing them out in Tests but must now learn to live with­out them. The enor­mity of that fact will be felt over the com­ing days and months.

Pak­istan be­gin a new chap­ter in their in­cred­i­ble his­tory and as is gen­er­ally the case, there is bound to be some un­cer­tainty. How­ever, Sri Lanka of­fer the smoothest pos­si­ble ini­ti­a­tion into the post MisYou era for Sar­fraz and Pak­istan.

For the is­landers, 2017 has been an un­mit­i­gated disas­ter. They have lost 26 out of 38 in­ter­na­tional matches this year, were blanked 9-0 across for­mats at home by In­dia and even man­aged to lose an ODI se­ries to Zim­babwe.

Their en­tire se­lec­tion com­mit­tee re­signed dur­ing the In­dia se­ries and are pretty much at the low­est point in their crick­et­ing his­tory. In short, it’s ad­van­tage Pak­istan even be­fore the toss in Abu Dhabi to­day.

On pa­per, Pak­istan hold the up­per hand. Even with­out Mis­bah and You­nis, they look the more set­tled bat­ting unit with Azhar Ali the bul­wark of the bat­ting unit and Babar Azam and Asad Shafiq the trusted lieu­tenants. Sar­fraz pro­vides as much lead­er­ship in the field as he does lower down the or­der with the bat.

Against a dispir­ited Sri Lankan bowl­ing out­fit whose main threat is the 39-year-old left-arm spin­ner Ran­gana Herath who is quite some way from his best, the omens look good for Pak­istan.

Bowl­ing has hardly even been an is­sue for Pak­istan and after legspin­ner Yasir Shah passed a late fit­ness test, the man­age­ment will be even more con­fi­dent. Es­pe­cially be­cause their op­po­nents man­aged to cross the 300-run mark only once in six at­tempts against In­dia.

The big­gest fac­tor work­ing in Pak­istan’s favour comes from out­side the Test arena. It’s the gen­eral air of pos­i­tiv­ity that has en­veloped Pak­istan cricket in 2017 and Sar­fraz is at the front and cen­tre of it. It was the wick­et­keeper bats­man who in­spired Pak­istan’s movie-wor­thy charge to the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy ti­tle in Eng­land and then over­saw a suc­cess­ful T20 cam­paign against a World XI side at home that her­alded the re­turn of mean­ing­ful cricket to Pak­istan. Ad­mit­tedly, all that hap­pened in lim­ited overs for­mats but cricket isn’t played in a vac­uum and a size­able chunk of Pak­istan’s Test squad must have savoured those re­sults and the pos­i­tiv­ity that em­anated from it.

Al­most ev­ery ma­jor as­pect of cricket in Pak­istan is look­ing up and Sar­fraz looks firmly in con­trol of the jour­ney that is gain­ing mo­men­tum.

It is true that the spec­tre of fix­ing re­fuses to leave the Pak­istan camp with big names like Shar­jeel Khan and Mo­ham­mad Ir­fan caught in the PSL spot-fix­ing saga ear­lier in the year. But Pak­istan cricket has suc­cess­fully steered away from that painful re­al­ity with suc­cess on the field.

Pak­istan couldn’t pos­si­bly hope for a more favourable fix­ture at this point in time as they pre­pare for life after Mis­bah-You­nis, and hope­fully right be­fore the full-fledged re­turn of cricket to the coun­try.

The con­di­tions in the UAE won’t ex­actly be alien to Sri Lanka but for the ‘hosts’, any­thing less than a clin­i­cal per­for­mance in the two-Tests se­ries will be seen as a dis­ap­point­ment.

Al­most ev­ery ma­jor as­pect of cricket in Pak­istan is look­ing up and Sar­fraz looks firmly in con­trol of the jour­ney that is gain­ing mo­men­tum

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