Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur believes that playing with leg-spinner Yasir Shah in the first Test in Centurion against South Africa was a mistake and they should have gone with a fourth seamer in Faheem Ashraf. Both South Africa and Pakistan played with three seamers and a spinner in the first Test but the slow bowlers were hardly required in a game dominated by fast bowlers. Yasir bowled just 11 overs across two innings and Keshav Maharaj 14.
“If you look at both teams, us and South Africa, and the amount of overs Maharaj and Yasir bowled, we should have probably played a fourth seamer. In hindsight yes we probably got that one wrong,” Arthur told Cricingif ahead of the second Test in Cape Town.
Pakistan have five seamers – Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Amir, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali and Shaheen Afridi – in the 16-member squad and since Abbas was unavailable in the first Test due to a should injury, Faheem was the only option as fourth seamer.
Pakistan’s both wins last year outside UAE – against Ireland at Malahide and England at Lord’s – had come with four seamers and Faheem featured in both the games. Although he didn’t do much with the ball, taking a wicket in each Test, he lent support to other fast bowlers and his contribution with the bat was vital. The left-hander scored a crucial 83 on debut at Malahide and 37 at Lord’s.
Yasir’s previous series, against New Zealand in the UAE last month, was the best of his career, taking 29 wickets in three matches, and making the fastest to 200 Test wickets world record. His performance in those Tests must have played in the minds of Pakistan’s think-tank before the Centurion Test.
Another factor that played a part in Yasir’s inclusion was injury to the all-rounder Shadab Khan, who was Pakistan’s lone spinner on the England and Ireland tour. Without Shadab and Yasir and with Haris Sohail, the part-time tweaker, also unfit, Pakistan would have been without a proper spin bowling option for the first Test.
It is pertinent to mention here that Pakistan’s recent history with over-rates is quite poor. They have been penalized for being slow on five occasions in Tests in the last three years as they struggle to bowl overs in time when the spinners are not bowling much. Sarfraz Ahmed was fined for a slow-rate offence in the Lord’s Test last year, when they played with four seamers, and another offence in 12 months will see him missing at least one Test.
Sarfraz has ruled out the possibility of playing fourth seamer in the second Test in Cape Town, a venue that historically has helped spin bowlers. The average spin at the Newlands is 33.03, the second lowest, after Durban (28.74), among South Africa’s major Test centers. Six years ago, Saeed Ajmal took ten wickets in Cape Town and Misbah-ul-Haq, the then Pakistan captain, regretted not playing the second spinner Abdur Rehman.
Good news from the Pakistan camp is that the man who made the waves last year, seamer Mohammad Abbas, is fit and will be the only change in the playing XI in Cape Town, most probably coming in for Hasan Ali. Sarfraz confirmed on the eve of the match that Pakistan will go with the same batting line-up which means under-firing Asad Shafiq will retain his place.
Mickey threw his support behind Sarfraz and Asad and said he has no doubt in their abilities. Sarfraz scored a pair in his last Test and since taking over captaincy is averaging only 25.33 whereas Asad has been inconsistent even though he scored a hundred in a vain effort against New Zealand last month.
“I have got no doubt that Sarfraz is the right leader. I have got no doubt that he is a phenomenal cricketer. Yes, we would have liked little more from his batting but one thing that goes unnoticed is Sarfraz kept at 98 per cent in the Centurion Test,” said Mickey.
“The whole way through UAE, Sarfraz dropped just three balls. His core job is to keep wickets and then bat for us. So, I classify Sarfraz as an all-rounder. I have got no doubt in Sarfraz’s ability to captain the team and perform for us when it is needed.
“I have also got no doubt about Asad Shafiq. I think he is a very talented player. He is a phenomenal batsman and has played some key innings for us over the last two and a half years. I remember his hundred at the Oval, I remember his 80 at Lord’s [Asad scored 73 and 49], I remember another pivotal innings at Lord’s of late and I think people forget that in the last Test against New Zealand he got a hundred for us.”
“Yes, we would have liked that to be a match-winning hundred but key to us is that he is a very good player. He is compact, he hits the ball well and late. He got a hundred here at Newlands last time he played. So, I hope that he comes through because I regard him very highly.”