A 3-0 whitewash at the hands of South Africa in the Test series has once again laid bare Pakistan’s shortcomings in red-ball cricket as question marks continue to hover over Sarfraz Ahmed’s captaincy.
The comprehensive defeat against the Proteas comes on the back of an unexpected ‘home’ loss to New Zealand in the UAE with the team still struggling to fill the boots vacated by the retirements of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq.
While Sarfraz’s own form with the bat has come under the scanner, the team’s other senior batsmen too have failed to stand up when it counts. There have been some positives in the batting department with Babar Azam continuing to blossom into a fine red-ball batsman while Shan Masood emerged as the top run-scorer for the side on his return to the Pakistan squad.
In the bowling department, the pace battery did reasonably well in the Test series but was still some way short of the standards historically associated with Pakistan’s fast-bowling attack.
After being humiliatingly whitewashed by Sri Lanka in the UAE last year, the Test outfit had looked to be back on the right track with a good showing in the summer tours of Ireland and England. However, the recent losses against the Kiwis and South Africa has shown that there is a long way to way for No7 ranked Pakistan to establish themselves as a formidable Test team.
As head coach Mickey Arthur rightly pointed out after the series loss, there exists many chinks in the Pakistan red-ball armoury and they will have to be fixed before the inaugural ICC Test Championship gets under way this year.
Luckily for Arthur and his men, they now have a fair few months to fix their red-ball woes given their next Test series will come against Sri Lanka in September. For now, the Men in Green need to turn their attention towards limited-overs cricket exclusively in the coming months ahead of the 2019 ICC World Cup in England.
While doubts have been raised over Sarfraz’s leadership in the Test format, the same cannot be said about his captaincy in limited-overs cricket where Pakistan have been flourishing over the past two years or so.
Sarfraz’s men have been on a roll in the T20 format where they have won 11 series on the bounce and are the undisputed No1 team. They have not shown the same remarkable consistency in the ODI format but as they proved with their ICC Champions Trophy triumph in England in 2017, they remain capable of raising their game on the biggest of stages.
In truth, 2018 wasn’t the best of years for Pakistan in the 50-over format with series defeats in New Zealand as well as a dismal performance in the Asia Cup in the UAE.
As such, the preparations for Pakistan’s World Cup campaign should start in earnest now, beginning with the upcoming limited-overs clashes against South Africa. As their T20 performances and Champions Trophy win have shown, Pakistan have all the makings of an excellent ODI outfit.
However, there remains a fair amount of work for the team management to do to translate that success into the 50-over format on a regular basis. Pakistan are slated to play five ODIs and three T20s in their South African tour before they welcome Australia to the UAE for five 50-over clashes.
Another five ODIs and a sole T20 in England will provide Pakistan a final chance to sharpen their tools before all systems go in the World Cup.
Generating some winning momentum in these clashes should be Pakistan’s biggest target in the coming months and a win against the formidable Proteas in their own backward can send the right signals. The Champions Trophy title in England was one of the most memorable chapters in Pakistan’s cricket history but the prospect of attaining a second World Cup crown at the same venue should entice them no end.
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