The two teams are locked at 1-1 in the three-match series with all to play for in the decider at Sheikh Zayed Stadium. Collapsing dramatically before falling to a four-run defeat in the series opener at the same venue, Pakistan bounced back strongly with an innings victory in the Dubai Test.
Sarfraz will now look to avoid the prospect of a second Test series defeat out of three in Pakistan’s ‘home fortress’ of the UAE. Here, we look at the three things the Pakistan skipper and his men need to do to ensure victory in the decider.
GET WILLIAMSON EARLY
As cliche as it might sound, getting the opposition’s best batsmen dismissed cheaply is always handy in tipping the balance of the game. In Kane Williamson, the Kiwis have not just an astute leader, but also a Test batsman of the highest calibre.
The 28-year-old has managed to show all his class and experience on the slow and turning pitches in the UAE. His 63 in the first innings of the opening Test was extremely crucial in setting up the Blackcaps’ narrow win and despite the thrashing received by his team in Dubai, Williamson looked like a cut above the rest in both innings.
He ran out of partners ultimately in the first innings while Yasir Shah ran riot and he was looking extremely good in the second too before falling to the Pakistan leg-spinner. The right-handed batsman possesses the ability and technique to weather any storm and if he gets set in Abu Dhabi, Pakistan could find themselves in trouble.
OPENERS NEED TO STEP UP
While Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and Babar Azam have looked good with the bat for Pakistan, their openers Mohammad Hafeez and Imam-ul-Haq have failed to come to the party so far in the UAE.
Returning to the Test set-up after nearly two years, Hafeez grasped his opportunity with both hands in the series against Australia by notching up his 10th ton in the format. However, the veteran opener has gone eerily quiet since then. In his three innings so far against the Kiwis, the 38-year-old has managed to muster only 39 runs.
His opening partner Imam-ul-Haq has not fared any better either with the left-hander collecting just 42 runs so far. Pakistan have failed to put up a single decent opening partnership so far in the series and that in turn has created extra pressure over the middle-order batsmen.
A change in that aspect could make things much easier for Sarfraz’s men in the decider.
SAFELY NEGATE BOULT THREAT
As Shah’s 14-wicket haul in the last Test in Dubai proved, spinners have traditionally ruled the roost when it comes to cricket in the UAE. However, with the series now heading back to Abu Dhabi, expect the pacers and seamers to be in business too.
In the series opener, Trent Boult roared New Zealand back into the match with a four-wicket burst in the first innings. The Kiwi pacer is one of the top proponents of the red-ball in world cricket and has time and time again shown he has the ability to work wonders on any kind of surface.
Blessed with an immaculate seam position and some prodigious movement, Boult is the dangerman for Pakistan’s batsmen on the Abu Dhabi surface. The pitch there has shown in recent times it has something for seamers who can work the batsmen with subtle movements. Pakistan’s very own Mohammad Abbas picked up a five-wicket haul in each innings in his side’s 373-run win over Australia in October.
As such, Boult will sniff blood on the pitch and will thoroughly examine the techniques of the Pakistan batsmen.
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