Stunned Pakistan pick up the pieces
SA series looming
Pakistan and Sarfraz Ahmed haven’t hit rock bottom. But they are closer to it than they have been for some time.
The year began with a 5-0 ODI series whitewash by New Zealand in the Antipodes. Before that, there was the shock 2-0 series defeat to Sri Lanka in UAE in their first Test series in the post Misbah-Younis era.
Sarfraz’s boys did well during their tour of England, drawing the series 1-1 following the stunning rise of seamer Mohammad Abbas. Since that England tour, things have not gone Pakistan’s way.
An embarrassing Asia Cup in the UAE cost pace ace Mohammad Amir his spot in the team with the men in green walloped by India twice. The home Test series against Australia was won after a lot of grind. And the three-match Test series against New Zealand – arguably the most consistent side in international cricket – exposed all their shortcomings.
Losing 2-1 to New Zealand at home has pushed Sarfraz closer to the edge as far as his captaincy in all formats is concerned. For most of 2018, talk in Pakistan cricket has surrounded whether the wicketkeeper needs a breather. Sarfraz has been the captain and keeper without taking any break; which has not affected his keeping it must be said.
But things have started to pile up. The horrible loss of form of seamer Amir and the failures of Mohammad Hafeez took the wind out of Pakistan’s sails as the two were expected to hold the side together in their UAE home and allow others – like Imam-ul-Haq and Shaheen Afridi – to express themselves.
Apart from individuals, the Pakistan team as a whole failed in the three-match series against New Zealand. As excellent as the Kiwis were – and they were top class in every single department – one can’t help but point to the winning positions Pakistan had in the both Abu Dhabi Tests.
In the first match of the series, Pakistan were 130-3 chasing 176 for victory and ended up losing the Test by four runs. They bounced back with an innings win in Dubai but the air of Abu Dhabi brought that inexplicable fear back into their game.
Pakistan had the Test and the series in the bag when they were 286-3 in reply to New Zealand’s first innings score of 274. One solid partnership at that stage would have meant a lead of at least 150 and that would have been it.
But Pakistan only managed 348 and an all-time great second innings ton by Williamson set the hosts a target of 280 which was well beyond them. In the end, batting out two and a half sessions proved too much as well.
On the personal front, Sarfraz’s batting fell apart against the Kiwis. A paltry 88 runs from five innings came at the worst possible time for the keeper – right before the full tour of South Africa which starts with a three-Test series at the end of this month.
The Proteas have a pace attack of Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and a certain Dale Steyn out to prove a point. In the batting department they have Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock and the evergreen Hashim Amla. Seriously, good luck.
Not only have Pakistan failed to stamp their authority in the big home assignments this season, their skipper has been forced to consider giving up captaincy.
“When it (series defeat) happens then one thinks on that (quitting captaincy),” said Sarfraz after the New Zealand series. “If I think that I am making mistakes and if the Pakistan team is not winning because of me, then I will think about getting away from it. And if there is someone else who is better suited for the captaincy of the Pakistan team, then I will do.”
It’s a sensitive time for Pakistan and Sarfraz. We are in the home stretch of the build-up to the 2019 World Cup in England and almost all Asian teams will now be mainly playing outside Asia to get accustomed to quicker pitches. And one suspects any structural changes to leadership will have to be done after the World Cup.
Pakistan play three Tests, five ODIs and three T20s in South Africa. It would have been a tough assignment in the best of times. Now it looks like a nightmare that may well stalk Pakistan all day.
Proteas have a pace attack of Philander, Rabada and Steyn. In the batting they have Du Plessis, De Kock and Amla. Seriously, good luck.
Prepare for impact: Pakistan lost to a clinical New Zealand side and now face the marauding Proteas in their backyard.