It's a good time to indulge in retrospection and chalk out future plans before action resumes again on the cricket field. Here are some areas that Pakistan must improve if they are to go deep in the ICC Test championship and climb up the rankings ladder.
While Pakistan has cruised past Sri Lanka and Bangladesh of late but they were up against the wall against Australia. The bowling wasn't up to par and the out of sync pace battery couldn't make inroads. Such was the plight of Pakistan bowlers that they were left at the mercy of the likes of David Warner, who scored 154 and 335* in two Tests, and Marnus Labuschagne who blasted 185 and 162.
Let's keep Naseem Shah's performance out of the equation since he was undergoing a personal tragedy and just making his debut in alien conditions. Probably, he was thrown into the mix a bit too early for my liking. Mohammad Abbas looked off-colour and the trait that makes him special — hitting the nagging length and probing outside the off-stump was missing. That said, he found his groove in the home series and is quickly gaining his confidence back after spending a lot of time on the fringes due to the scheduling and the shoulder injury. On top of the list, Yasir Shah's lean patch hurt Pakistan the most — perhaps the greatest of the worries for Pakistan cricket team's thinktank.
The strike bowlers were guilty of not using the new ball effectively in the tour Down Under. They lacked clarity over finding the right lengths on pitches in Australia and the error was compounded by the fact that the management experimented way too much with the team combination. Rookie pacers were given a go and Test caps were handed like it's a Black Friday sale. Up against batsmen who are arguably at their zenith, the visitors allowed the finest openers to get off the hook and they made sure to bat Pakistan out of both contests. Australia was not perturbed in that lop-sided series and they only had to bat once in both Tests.
You may name a few young prospects that you saw in this year's PSL; Zahid Mahmood, Mohammad Mohsin, Usama Mir or Raja Farzan. They all hold promise but are they ready for the big jump to the national side? Usman Qadir hasn't got enough opportunities to strut his stuff. Whatever little we have seen in Big Bash League and domestic tournaments, it looks as if he isn't a big turner of the ball and doesn't get the ball to zip through quickly to deceive the batsman in flight but he does get extra kick off the surface due to his height. The point of the matter is that Misbah-ul-Haq and company must invest in these leg-spinners and develop them for Test cricket.
Let's turn our attention again on Yasir and take a look at his numbers in the tour Down Under where Pakistan suffered an innings defeat in both Test matches.
Adelaide: Overs 32 Runs 197 Wickets 0
Brisbane: 0vers 48.4 Runs 205 Wickets 4
Yasir didn't even get to bowl in the second innings in both Tests but he leaked plenty of runs and the two wickets in Brisbane was of tail-enders. Thereon, he struggled to locate his mojo against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as well. Neither he is getting the ball to turn viciously nor he is finding the stoic consistency in his length that helped him climb up quickly to 200 wickets - the fastest spinner to get to this milestone. Also, Yasir's googly has never been that surprising because it's not as sharp as Imran Tahir or Rashid Khan's wrong un'. The leggie has got an extended break now owing to the COVID-19 situation and he couldn't ask for a better time to reflect, ponder and he needs to weed out these issues before action resumes
The two senior men, Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq are part of the Test team for about a decade now but one still feels when the going gets tough, they have this tendency to capitulate under pressure and they came under fire in Australia tour. The duo is yet to prove that they can calm things down like Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan did after usual top-order collapses. Take a look at their numbers in Australia tour:-
Azhar Ali: Adelaide 9, 9 Brisbane 39, 5
Asad Shafiq: Adelaide 9, 57 Brisbane 76, 0
Pakistan cannot possibly think of climbing up the tree in the Test rankings and go deep in the ICC Test Championship if the elder statesmen don't lead the way in overseas tours. The yardstick for assessing subcontinent batters' skill is when they deliver the goods in foreign soil and there was one man in that tour who through his marvellous workmanship and a yearning to rate among the best showed that it can be done. Babar Azam came out on top against the trio of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood and the wily customer, Nathan Lyon, who becomes a headache for the batsmen when the pitch starts to deteriorate.
According to real quick pacers such as Shaun Tait and Shoaib Akhtar, one has to really hurt and push the body to the limits to clock 150 and above. Naseem Shah has got the special x-factor and watching him spear supernovas is good television. The fifer against Sri Lanka and the hat-trick against Bangladesh this year in Rawalpindi caused delirium in the stands. The performances have left little doubt over his brilliance.
The 17-year-old hobbled off the pitch after that spectacular hat-trick as he experienced some pain around his ribcage. He has had lingering issues with his back too. We hope the unblemished tearaway quick is in good hands and the problems with his hip-shoulder alignment, front foot contact, point of release and follow-through are sorted out. Naseem couldn't feature in the last PSL owing to the back injury and even in this PSL, he had a few minor issues which makes it all the more important for the management to plan out his workload and get the biomechanists involved to keep him off the bench as much as possible in the years to come.
Take the example of Hasan Ali; one day he is your main strike force and now he is struggling to make a comeback. There are several other glaring examples like that. The moral of the story is you don't want to become an injury liability because apparently it doesn't take long for one to get lost into oblivion.
Will Pakistan fans always rave about classic all-rounders like Shakib-Al-Hasan and Ben Stokes? The search to find the next go-to-guy who can change the complexion of the game in both departments needs to be ramped up.
There haven't been a whole lot of all-rounders coming through the ranks over the past five years. Faheem Ashraf was tipped to become a reliable jack of all trades who could play those gritty knocks down the order and also get the ball to talk. His 80-odd innings against Ireland in Malahide in 2018 made the team management breathe a sigh of relief and they pinned their hopes on him but then we saw a decline in form and once again he is trying to redeem himself after a decent first-class season and the PSL V.
Amad Butt is an option you might say. Islamabad United's stalwart has been on the radar of selectors. Coming into this year's PSL, the all-rounder played some wonderful cameos in National T20 Cup Faisalabad and then he scored a century in Quid-e-Azam trophy but he doesn't come across as a bowler who is suited to Test. Limited sideways movement and slower ones are not going to be enough tricks for him to persevere through the gruelling demands of the longer format.