Stunned Pak­istan pick up the pieces

SA se­ries loom­ing

Sport360 - - Front Page - Cricket with Ajit Vi­jayku­mar b @ajvk1984 ✉ ajitvi­jayku­[email protected]

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.

Watch out

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.

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