Pakistan cricket is in a rough spot at the moment. Captain Sarfraz Ahmed is under fire from all corners after a poor Asia Cup campaign that saw the men in green fail to make it to the final and suffer two heavy defeats against India.
During the Asia Cup, opener Fakhar Zaman and pace ace Mohammad Amir bombed while Sarfraz himself struggled for runs. They had gone in with six fast bowling options while all other teams relied heavily on spinners, with India fielding as many as four.
In the aftermath of the poor campaign on ‘home’ soil, Amir was shown the door while veteran batsman and off-spinner Mohammad Hafeez was called in to offer some solidity to the batting line-up.
Pakistan have been playing in the UAE for a decade but the landscape has changed dramatically since the retirements of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan in May last year.
The absence of their assured batting has exposed the next generation of Pakistan batsmen to the unforgiving nature of Test cricket. They failed in their first challenge at home in the post ‘Mis-You’ era as they succumbed to a 2-0 Test defeat against Sri Lanka.
Pakistan recovered nicely to post Test wins against Ireland and then in England at Lord’s. But their shortcomings were out in the open in the second Test in England as they succumbed to an innings defeat. Even the win in Ireland’s inaugural Test – in Dublin in May by five wickets – came after a lot of back and forth.
Now it’s Australia. The Aussies are still recovering from the shockwaves of the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa earlier in the year. They are without captain Steve Smith, veteran opener David Warner, batsman Cameron Bancroft – all banned for their role in the incident. Coach Darren Lehmann also resigned.
Also, pace spearheads Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood have failed to recover in time for the Pakistan series, meaning the workload on Mitchell Starc will be heavy.
But the Aussies still have off-spinner Nathan Lyon, their biggest weapon in Asian conditions. Lyon has improved dramatically since he last toured the UAE in 2014 when he managed just three wickets from two Tests against icons Misbah and Younis. In the last two series in India and Bangladesh, Lyon snared 41 wickets in six Tests and is arguably the best finger spinner in the format.
Moreover, they have in-form all-rounder Mitchell and veteran white-ball specialist Finch who should be able to assert themselves against a diffident Pakistan attack.
It might all boil down to how leg-spinner Yasir Shah performs for Pakistan. Sarfraz was let down by Amir in the Asia Cup with proven performer Shadab Khan also picking up an injury. If Shah doesn’t fire, Pakistan will be severely handicapped.
Both teams enter the two-match series with their plates full. Key personnel are missing in both dressing rooms and captains Sarfraz and Paine have a point or two to prove about the quality of their team to detractors back home.
However, Sarfraz will be under greater pressure as questions are being asked about his workload and viability in all three formats.
It’s game on in Dubai.
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