The second and final Test between Pakistan and Australia starts today. Many of us are still in denial of what happened in Dubai. The first Test went down to the very last over on the final day. The match, like previous Tests in the desert (UAE), was a snoozefest, to begin with, the pitch was blamed by many, Sarfraz Ahmed failed to score yet again and Usman Khawaja along with Tim Paine orchestrated an improbable escape which didn’t seem likely at the start of Day 5.
This draw, on one hand, would do wonders in terms of boosting the confidence of the visiting team; this was the first time they were playing a Test since the infamous ‘sandpaper’ scandal, under a new coach, captain and lots of debutants. On the other hand, the home side was left with a lot to ponder; the missed opportunities, tactical blunders and most importantly the form of their captain Sarfraz Ahmed. And unfortunately, this is not just about his batting form but also his ability to lead the team in the field, with his inclusion in the team being the most discussed topic on the internet after Kanye West these days.
Since the Asia Cup 2018 debacle, Sarfraz’ captaincy has been under the hammer. Pakistan only won 2 out of their 5 matches in the tournament. They looked worn-out and their will to put up a fight apart from a player or two was nowhere to be seen. Sarfraz didn’t have much time to reflect upon the errors incurred and had to deal with Australia right away.
This is Sarfraz’ fourth series as a Test captain: out of the 6 matches he’s won two, lost three and drawn one. Two losses and the only draw took place in the UAE, the same UAE which was considered to be a fortress under Pakistan’s most successful (Test) captain Misbah ul Haq. The two-Test defeat occurred against Sri Lanka last year, one would like to give Sarfraz some breathing space as it was his first-ever series as a Test captain. But the draw against Australia was a hard pill to swallow. The tactical blunders mostly in the second innings cost Pakistan the victory they had set sight on.
For starters, Pakistan missed out on taking a review in the 61st over on Yasir Shah’s bowling at a crucial juncture of the match when debutant Travis Head was batting on 44 along with Usman Khawaja, the two went on to stitch a partnership of 132 runs for the fourth wicket. Then Sarfraz missed a trick by not starting off the day with the in-form pacer Mohammad Abbas, he instead chose Wahab Riaz who went wicketless in the match. This move helped the overnight batsmen settle down and play their shots. When two left-handers were batting, Mohammad Hafeez was underutilised. The field settings for most parts were defensive, Sarfraz never looked the part. The pressure to deliver seemed to have bogged him down to a level where he had forgotten the basics of the game.
In the second and final Test, all eyes would once again be set on captain Sarfraz. The pressure to get things right would be immense. It will be interesting to see how he copes with it. If somehow he gets going with the bat, which he hasn’t at all ever since he became the Test captain: he averages a meagre 19.30 in 10 innings. Sarfraz will have to back his ability to perform with the bat which can surely translate into a more improved version of him as a captain. Tim Paine led from the front in the last Test by not giving his wicket away and batted till the end. Sarfraz might wanna take a leaf out of his counterpart’s book for inspiration. After all, the captain is responsible to lift his team when the chips are down, but when the captain himself needs motivation, it has to come from within. As the famous saying goes, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’. Here’s hoping for Sarfraz to raise his game both as a batsman and as a captain before it’s too late.