It doesn’t take rocket science to know that before any battle, it is mandatory for a force to thoroughly assess the strength and weaknesses of their opponents, along with properly evaluating the conditions of battlefield. It seems Pakistan failed in doing both in the Abu Dhabi Test against Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka, after being whitewashed by India and getting a scare by Zimbabwe at home, came to Abu Dhabi as underdogs but turned the tables remarkably to outclass Pakistan by defending a low target of 136.
This was the lowest total Pakistan ever failed to chase in fourth innings of a Test match, going past its previous worst of succumbing with just 93 on the board while chasing 146 against South Africa at Faisalabad in 1997.
This Test, without any doubt, was a new beginning for Pakistan cricket. It was Pakistan’s first Test since retirement of country’s most dependable batting partners, Misbah ul Haq and Younis Khan and it was also the first under the captaincy of Sarfaraz Ahmed.
It was Pakistan’s first Test since retirement of country’s most dependable batting partners, Misbah ul Haq and Younis Khan
And, Pakistan struggled at the first step of their new journey under the new captain and without the players who have always been there to provide crutches to the ever-collapsing batting line-up of Pakistan.
While the middle order looked clueless, especially in the fourth innings, on how to avoid a collapse and get themselves out of a pressure situation, the captaincy of Sarfaraz Ahmed also came under the scanner. Although, this was just the first Test for him and it is understandably premature to judge him as a Test skipper, but an evaluation of his strategy can’t be put on the back burner either.
Sarfaraz was named Pakistan’s captain following the retirement of Misbah ul Haq at the end of series against West Indies four months ago. He was already leading Pakistan impressively in limited-overs cricket, picking up the ICC Champions Trophy along with a T20 series win over the ICC World XI. His leadership record in ODIs and T20Is has been impressive and been praised due to his approach.
“He has redefined Pakistan’s cricket in limited overs competition,” Pakistan’s former captain Ramiz Raja said about Sarfaraz Ahmed’s captaincy in T20Is and ODIs. Under Sarfaraz’s captaincy, Pakistan has won 9 out of 11 T20Is and 7 out of 9 ODIs. But, Test cricket is a completely different ball game and a totally new experience for Sarfaraz. “You need to be very patient in Test cricket. Your total learning as cricketer comes through when you make decisions as a Test side captain,” Ramiz Raja added.
“You need to be very patient in Test cricket.” Ramiz Raja
So after such a chastening defeat, what exactly does Sarfaraz need to learn before his next Test? “I think he needs to be more considerate towards selecting the final XI for the match. He should go according to the situation, not according to a set pattern,” advised former Test pacer Sikandar Bakht. “We certainly missed another spinner in Abu Dhabi,” he added.
“I think he (Sarfaraz) needs to be more considerate towards selecting the final XI for the match.” Sikandar Bakht
Sarfaraz was also criticized for trying out too many bowling options in the first innings and not attacking towards the end of sessions. “He tried too many options on day one after losing the toss and being set to bowl first,” Bakht went on. The former pacer, now a TV expert, criticised Sarfaraz turning to part timers, within two sessions of the first day’s play. Seven bowlers were tried by Sarfaraz Ahmed in Sri Lanka’s first innings, including part timers Asad Shafiq and Shan Masood.
That being said, Sarfaraz’s “out of the box” thinking is also one of main strengths. One may argue that he was aiming to disturb the batsmen’s concentration with his quick changes. Maybe he thought the approach he uses in limited-overs cricket would also work in Test cricket.
“Test cricket is very different from limited overs cricket,” said Ramiz when offered this view. “You need to go session by session, you need to change strategy every session and there’s no set formula to apply your option.”
It has been suggested that the unusual green tinge on the Abu Dhabi pitch was the reasoning for going with three pacers, a strategy that seemed to prove futile in a match determined by spin. But Sarfaraz’s captaincy as a batsman also came under fire, after he chose not to promote himself as Pakistan fumbled in their chase.
However, Sikandar Bakht argued that it wouldn’t have made any difference. “Sarfaraz played his natural game, but fell prey to (the bowler’s) experience. He would have played similar innings even after coming earlier,” said Bakht. “I would say that lets not be harsh on Sarfaraz, we were there with young blood and a young captain and it was the first experience for him. Give him at least five Tests before judging his skills as a Test captain,” the former pacer added.