Sarfraz Ahmed calls his team into a huddle after they set Australia a daunting target
From the day he took over as coach, Mickey Arthur has been itching to transform Pakistan from what they were under Misbah-ul-Haq to something altogether more attacking. Let’s be generous and call it an evolution rather than a transformation, kind of like how England went from the grim attrition of Nasser Hussain to the colourful bloom of Michael Vaughan.
He went some way to that end by including not just Shadab Khan but also Faheem Ashraf in the Test side this summer in Ireland and England. Young, multi-skilled attacking players, PSL graduates free of the fears of an older albeit cohesive Test core, and the results were instant and impressive.
The third player he was desperately finding a way to fit in was Fakhar Zaman, maybe not as an opener in England, but somewhere in that middle order. Another PSL star, another young player precisely in the mould he wants. Conditions and circumstances mean neither of Shadab or Faheem play tomorrow but Arthur does finally get to throw Fakhar into the Test XI.
However well or not he does, you won’t want to miss it. Pakistan’s opening pair may not have a settled identity but in the UAE that has not meant that it is not successful: the first wicket averages 47.35.
Fakhar, though, brings another dimension, an element of urgency that Pakistan’s opening pairs haven’t had since perhaps as long ago as Saeed Anwar (not counting Shahid Afridi’s occasional stints). It threatens to upturn what has been a successful formula for years: start steady, keep wickets in hand, build on it, tighten the screws a bit more and boom, we’re late into day two and the game is beginning to roll. Fakhar is not naturally wired to do steady.
“One of the reasons is exactly this, to get someone who can play aggressively and score at a brisk pace,” Sarfraz Ahmed said. “You need someone like that in a team. Teams around the world do that.”
Pakistan hovered around that three runs per over rate in both innings in Dubai, though the 2.93 in a first innings that lasted 164.2 overs could’ve done with a bump. “If you’re talking about the run-rate,” Sarfraz said, “then in the first Test’s two sessions we scored 200 runs. We lost two quick wickets after that and then we had to focus on rebuilding the innings.
“We hope that the batsmen target at least three runs per over once they get set. That is the requirement these days and if you don’t play to that you fall behind in the Test by a day.”
The days since the Dubai Test have been filled with talk of a rift between Sarfraz and Arthur, which the former emphatically dismissed. There was a divergence in plans on the final morning (when Sarfraz didn’t bring Mohammad Abbas on for 15 overs despite Abbas opening with Yasir Shan being the pre-play plan) and there was an honest meeting between the pair in between the Tests, but a rift this isn’t. Different wavelengths every now and again but not a rift – at least not yet.
The pressure will begin to build very quickly however, especially if Pakistan don’t win this series. They’ve already gone four Tests without a win in the UAE, a veritable fortress for so long. Three Tests against New Zealand will not be easy, especially if results in the preceding limited overs games don’t go well.
Sarfraz is drawing hope from the fact that Pakistan dominated four days of the first Test and never looked in any danger of losing. An appeal here, a review there and they might have won it and things would not be looking like they are right now.
“There is no pressure after the draw, not as a team or as a captain. We have played well and were unfortunate that the wicket didn’t fall and we didn’t win the Test.
“As a team and as a captain I’m very confident for this Test. I’m happy with the way the team responded in the first Test. For four and a half days everything was going fine but unfortunately we couldn’t win the match. Credit goes to Australia they fought really hard but the way we fought in the first Test I’m proud of the team.”