• 14 Oct - 20 Oct, 2017
  • Sohaib ALvi
  • Sports

I had titled the previous article as ‘Have Selectors Failed the Test?’ My fear was that not selecting Fawad Alam and unnecessarily toying with the batting order to accommodate favourites at the top had shown weakness in Inzamam and co. But even if they had done so, coach Mickey Arthur could have stressed on Sarfraz to play Azhar as opener and strengthened the middle order to curb Rangana Herath, and play two spinners in a hot season and on flat pitches. So I ask this time, ‘Has Mickey Arthur Failed the Test?’

After all, it was calculated to be a sleeper series. Sri Lanka were in such pathetic form and Pakistan on such a high from winning the Champions Trophy and the Independence Cup against the World XI that other than a spate of injuries by the ‘host’ side, it seemed Pakistan would win the series with ease.

That didn’t happen. I had written in previous column here that each of the top six Sri Lankan batsmen were likely to play the odd fifty or hundred innings but not together; and that collectively Sri Lanka would collapse whether under pressure or not. That happened in Abu Dhabi. Sri Lanka faltered as expected in the second innings despite a fine hundred by Chandimal in the first innings, and it was only inept batting from Pakistan that saw them short of a small target which most teams reach eight times out of 10 even on a fifth day pitch.

Clearly, there was nothing in the pitch that caused Pakistan’s bewildering demise. Herath is a crafty spinner but never got any significant turn in that fourth innings. He was bowling floaters on a good line and length than turning ferociously. The Pakistani batsmen just fell due to lack of acumen against the slow ball, either missing straight ones, playing carelessly or displaying lack of technique and application.

This was where Pakistan missed Fawad Alam. He has a penchant for occupying the crease that would have helped in keeping one end blocked. He has shown that over three years in domestic first-class cricket. Yes, Haris Sohail has played well. But had Azhar Ali retained his opener slot, Pakistan could have played both him and Fawad. Only Mickey Arthur and Sarfraz Ahmed would know why they chose to push him down when he was in prime form as opener in Tests over the last three years.

Most surprisingly, Mickey Arthur made the stunning decision to play three fast bowlers. Pakistan has always won with a two spinner attack in the UAE grounds. Against England in 2012, it was Saeed Ajmal and the left armer Abdur Rehman who flattened the Englishmen with 43 of the 60 possible wickets leading Pakistan to clean sweep the three-Test rubber.

In 2013, Ajmal paired up with Zulfiqar Babar and the two snared 18 of the possible 30 wickets in the two Tests, one of which was won by an innings by the South Africans as the series was drawn 1-1.

The same year against Sri Lanka, the same pair took 15 of the 35 wickets in the three-Test series, even though Babar played only one Test.

The next year of course was the most memorable when Babar this time teamed up with Yasir Shah to bamboozle the Aussies, gobbling up 26 of the 40 possible wickets as Pakistan clean swept one of the world’s strongest batting line-ups in both the Test matches.

Even though Pakistan struggled in first half of 2015 in the World Cup and then in Bangladesh, they again won the three-Test series against England 2-0 because of the spin trio of Yasir, Babar and Shoaib Malik, who together took 35 of the 53 English wickets.

Finally, there was Yasir Shah with a 21-wicket haul against West Indies last year, alongside Nawaz and Babar (who played 2 of the 3 Tests), all contributing 29 of the 55 wickets.

I understand if Mickey thought that with only Yasir Shah the experienced spinner in the side as Bilal Asif has yet to play Tests and Mohammad Asghar yet to play an international. But what was the objective of taking them for what is a two-Test series if neither was not to be played at all? And they are not in the ODI squad either; don’t expect them in the T20 team also.

The pitches were always going to be unfriendly to the pacemen. You couldn’t expect grass on them anyway in such weather. Then there is the extreme heat that was bound to factor against men running up to bowl and making the effort for pace. Naturally, Herath weighed in but more so because of specialist spinners Dilruwan Perera and Lakshan Rangika Sandakan at the other end. The two may not have taken wickets, but kept the pressure on at the other end.

Mickey relied on part-time spin to aid Yasir. But with Haris Sohail having not bowled in a first-class game for past three years and Asad Shafiq an occasional trundler, this is expecting too much from the two. To then play medium pacers instead of out-and-out pace, was even more ludicrous. They will take the occasional wicket, but look at what has happened to Amir; Wahab, too, only succeeded in the second innings of the second Test because the Lankan batsmen played some carelessly ambitious shots, perhaps overconfident with a 200-plus lead going into their second innings.

If at all the coach didn’t have confidence in the two rookies he should have told the selectors he wouldn’t be playing them because of their lack of experience. Maybe Inzamam and co. would have instead sent Imad Wasim or Shadab instead. Clearly a lack of planning here that has cost Pakistan not just a series win but also their confidence.

Talking of selectors, they have shown nepotism after all. I had expected Inzamam to eschew that but he has gone ahead and picked his nephew Imam-ul-Haq over better options who have given results when played. Rameez Jr. should have been brought back or Usman Salahuddin retained considering he wasn’t given the opportunity to play in the Tests. Usman played Pakistan’s last two ODIs in West Indies. He was run out in the first coming in with less than five overs to go and in the second was out to a silly lbw decision; the ball from leg-spinner Bishoo had pitched outside leg.

But Inzi, perhaps thinking he may not be continued with as chairman of selectors after getting himself involved in the T10 league, thought he’ll get his relative in before he goes out. Imam featured in four games in the National One-Day Cup early this year for Lahore Whites and scored only 96 runs (including an innings of 49). Inzamam quoted his two hundreds in the international Under-23 tournament in Bangladesh but those two came against Hong Kong and Nepal; against Bangladesh he got 13.

Interesting that Mohammad Yousuf quoted his performance in domestic cricket as justification. He has played no recognised 50- over cricket recently. And if indeed domestic performances are criteria for selection then why was Fawad Alam left out of the Test team?

I have seen Imam bat; he is an exciting batsman, yes. He may yet score, yes. But would he have broken ranks ahead of Usman if he wasn’t the chief selector’s nephew?