• 30 Sep - 06 Oct, 2017
  • Sohaib ALvi
  • Sports

For a team that is in the pits no matter what the format, Sri Lanka poses some tough questions for another team that is among the top tier of Test rankings.

By all counts, Pakistan should easily defeat Sri Lanka in the UAE in all the three formats. The abject failure of the islanders, at home to the Indians, is the latest of a poor run ever since the stalwarts Jayawardene, Sangakkara and Dilshan have exited.

Neither is Asela Gunaratne and Kusal Perera in the side because of injury while Upul Tharanga, won’t be available for Test cricket for six months. Near to the start of the Test series their one genuine all-rounder, Angelo Mathews, will also miss the first Test – if not both.

Despite some potentially high scorers, there is no spine in the batting other than the odd knock expected by skipper Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne (vice-captain), Niroshan Dickwella or Kusal Mendis. And the bowling will rely heavily on left-arm veteran finger spinner Rangana Herath, leading a three-man spin attack that comprises left-arm wrist spinner Lakshan Sandakan alongside another finger spinner, Dilruwan Perera.

So why then would a team so shorn of reliable experience pose tough questions for a Pakistani team that has had a 12 months so far, winning the Test series against West Indies in UAE and then at their home turf (first time ever), sweeping the limited over games, lifting the Champions Trophy against all odds at the beginning and finally overcoming a strong World XI at home?

Well, the tough questions posed will be to the young men in the middle order who have been pulled out ahead of someone like Fawad Alam, who was expected to make a comeback once Misbah and Younis (Mis-You) retired. He would have brought in a lot of experience at the top level five-day game that Usman Salahuddin and Haris Sohail do not offer.

Recalling Haris Sohail reeks of small mindedness in fact. The man has played no first class cricket for three years! Compare that with Fawad Alam’s accumulation of over 2,000 runs in this format at a stunning average of 59.14 during the same period! Both players bat and ball left handed so Harris has no edge in any form.

Here I feel the selectors have failed the test of impartiality. How could they not recall Fawad considering his prolific form? And the fact that he scored 168 against Sri Lanka on his Test debut. He thus became the first Pakistani to score a 100 on an overseas Test debut, and the 10th Pakistani overall. Interestingly, he was slotted in as an opener in that game.

And yet, just two Test matches later, he was dropped from the Test squad after he was played at one down instead of his middle order position in the swinging conditions of New Zealand. Despite that, Fawad has a Test batting average of 41.66 and is still only 31 years of age.

Interestingly, his return to the ODI side was in 2014 in the Asia Cup in Bangladesh where he scored a century against Sri Lanka! What more would the selectors want considering his great form in first class cricket, his recent run of scores and a superb history of performances against Sri Lanka.

Further, the selectors have once again stuck to Wahab Riaz. It was clear in the last two Test series against West Indies – in both UAE and in the Caribbean – that he runs out of steam very quickly. He may be the only Pakistani pacer to bowl above 150km but that has hardly brought him wickets as he does that when bowling short of a length. On UAE pitches and in that heat, it is unlikely he will strain himself fully. And he is coming out of a stint in the West Indian T20 league.

Then there is Shan Masood. The selectors feel he wasn’t given enough chances in West Indies and in fact offered only one Test (where he failed). So why not bring back someone like Asif Zakir who wasn’t given any chance either in Tests on the tour of West Indies? Or bring back Fawad Alam as opener in Shan’s place if they wanted Haris Sohail in the middle order?

There is also talk of playing Azhar Ali one down and making Shan and Sami Aslam open. I think the idea is to give the opportunity to Shan to make runs on the placid UAE pitches against one of the weaker pace attacks in the world. That is why Ahmed Shehzad has been dropped despite displaying good form in the three games against World XI. Even otherwise he is a far better player than Shan can be.

Coming to the middle order then, if Azhar does bat at No.3 pushing down Babar Azam to No.4, there has to be one from Usman Salahuddin and Haris Sohail who will bat next, as Asad Shafiq’s best knocks have come at No.6 and he has the most hundreds there – just because he is the senior player now the coach and captain should not disturb him. He bats well with the tail and there is always the chance of an odd collapse that Pakistan is famous for.

Pakistan should play two spinners and two fast bowlers. That has served them well in defeating Australia, New Zealand and England on these same grounds over the last two years there. Unless Sarfaraz plays Haris Sohail ahead of Usman Salahuddin and counts on his left-arm spin to support Yasir Shah.

Yes, Sarfaraz will be making some tough decisions on what is his first shot at Test captaincy. He has a brilliant mind and thinks at high speed. He is also attacking in his approach and perks up the players; no sleeping on the job when he is directing. Of course, the five-day game calls for greater patience, but having kept under Misbah he is aware of the requirements in this format. It would have been good if Younis had extended himself by another year just to lend him moral support and advisory on the field.

But Sarfaraz is someone who takes on the challenge. He was a teenager when he led Pakistan to lift the Under 19 World Cup. He won his first six T20 Internationals as Pakistan captain. He was just a few weeks into his One Day captaincy (he’d won his first ODIs series as captain) when he led Pakistan to the Champions Trophy, so winning the first Test and the series should come naturally to him.

Nevertheless, this is sport and anything can happen. The last thing Sarfaraz should do is become complacent. Knowing him, that’s the last thing he will do, if ever. •