ABU DHABI: Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed faces some searching questions to answer for the second Test against Australia over his bowling attack and batting lineup after Tim Paine’s side produced a battling draw in the first match in Dubai.
Usman Khawaja defied pre-match predictions and a poor return on turning pitches in Asia to score a battling 141 and anchor his side’s defiance as they survived 139.5 overs in stifling conditions to ensure a draw.
Sarfraz’s bowlers were unable to put concerted pressure on the visitors with Khawaja reverse sweeping leg-spinner Yasir Shah seemingly at will on a pitch that was deteriorating and offering assistance to Pakistan’s four slow bowlers.
Left-arm quick Wahab Riaz also failed to effectively exploit any reverse swing he was achieving with the older ball, forcing Sarfraz to continually change his tactics and fielding positions in an effort to manufacture a wicket.
The second and final Test starts in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday and Sarfraz’s side will be forced to make at least one change with opening batsman Imam-ul-Haq having surgery on a broken finger and ruled out of the match.
Imam scored an impressive 76 in a 205-run opening stand with Mohammed Hafeez that set up Pakistan’s first innings of 482.
He added 48 in Pakistan’s second innings of 181 for six declared but broke the little finger on his left hand while fielding on the fifth and final day and was forced from the ground.
The left-handed opener had surgery in Dubai on Saturday and would return home on Tuesday, the Pakistan Cricket Board said.
His absence will necessitate changes to the batting order with Fakhar Zaman the only other specialist opening batsman in the squad, although he is yet to make his Test debut at the age of 28 and not played a first-class match in more than a year.
Azhar Ali could also be promoted up the order to open with Hafeez with leg-spinning all-rounder Shadab Khan possibly coming into the squad to bolster the team’s bowling stocks.
The 20-year-old Shadab, however, is battling a groin injury that ruled him out of the first Test and which thwarted coach Mickey Arthur’s plans of combining him with Yasir to attack Australia’s inexperienced batting lineup.
Meanwhile, Azhar admitted Pakistan will be under pressure of expectations in the final Test.
“I can’t say if the pressure will be more on Pakistan or Australia but we are the home side and obviously people expect us to win and so there is pressure,” said Azhar on Sunday. “However, having said that these are favourable conditions for us and we have to make the most of it.
“Pressure is always different in every match and obviously this is a decider. Being the home team we have to win it and we will enter the field thinking that. We will look to play positive cricket and hopefully the result will go our way.”
The 33-year-old Azhar held the opening spot since The Oval Test in England in August 2016 and struck a triple century against the West Indies in Dubai and a double hundred against Australia in Melbourne — both in 2016.
He went to his customary number three position for the two Tests against Sri Lanka last year and in last week’s first Test against Australia.
“When playing for Pakistan one has to be ready for everything,” said Azhar. “I have always believed in that and whatever the team management decides or the captain decides, I will be ready to do that.”
Azhar admitted Pakistan players were disappointed at not winning the first Test.
“We are not disheartened but, yes, disappointed, obviously after dominating the Test match throughout and then not winning it,” said Azhar, a veteran of 66 Tests. “Unfortunately we couldn’t win but I think we also have to give credit to the Australians as well as they showed resilience and kept fighting till the end.”
Azhar said he remains focused despite not in the best of form, managing only 95 runs in the last four Tests.
“A batsman always wants to score runs and it doesn’t feel nice when he doesn’t score runs,” said Azhar. “But the important thing is to stay focused and believe that once you get a good knock things will start rolling again.”
Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2018