While Pakistan miss Younis and Misbah, Sri Lanka move on from Sangakkara and Jayawardene departure
When Sarfraz was being handed over the Champions Trophy at the Oval on June 18, every Pakistani was ecstatic. But passionate cricket fans had this numb realization deep in their hearts that with every great fortune comes a price, which manifests only after revels of victory have been petered out. The price for Pakistan of reclaiming the thrown of ODI dominance was, many knew, going to be an imminent test cricket catastrophe, which had been on the horizon ever since test veterans Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan hanged their boots.
The long forecasted hurricane has finally hit Pakistan cricket’s shores. And its first waves have broken upon the very cliff atop which Pakistan test cricket stood insurmountable: the UAE. At the hands of Sri Lanka, Pakistan has just been whitewashed 2-0 in the grounds of United Arab Emirates, where it remained impregnable for a long seven years. Before this series loss, Pakistan oversaw nine test series in their supposed home turf under Misbah’s captaincy, winning five and drawing four. The Lankan tigers had a golden opportunity to dismantle this impeccable record after Misbah’s departure. They did it, rather ruthlessly, leaving Sarfraz eleven stranded on the erstwhile hospitable wilderness of the Gulf state.
If you think the storm is over, think again. Ask Sri Lankans. They have been dealing with this torment since 2014, when their larger-than-life figures Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene ceased to be Sri Lankan team members. From then on, Sri Lanka had to tread a long, patchy and weary path. Have a look at Lanka’s test record since 2015.
Lost 1-2 to Pakistan
Lost 1-2 to India
Won 2-0 against West Indies
Won 3-0 against Australia
Lost 0-2 against New Zealand
Lost 0-2 against England
Won 2-0 against Zimbabwe
Lost 0-3 against South Africa
Sangakkara and Jayawardene were to Sri Lanka what Misbah and Younis were to Pakistan: leaders, backbone of batting line-up and inspirations for the youngsters. Thus, their loss meant the loss of all three aforementioned factors, considered pillars upon which the edifice of a cricket team is often built.
Now, does it mean Pakistan too would have to suffer such miserable run in their test form for the next three to four years? Extrapolating from Sri Lanka’s experience, one can certainly say “yes, Pakistan is indeed doomed”. But what if we give optimism a go and start looking for factors that differentiate Pakistan’s case with that of Sri Lanka. First of all, Pakistan have at their disposal another pair of middle-order stalwarts who can certainly fill the ‘Mis|You’ vacuum: Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq. Horrendous as the latest series was for Pakistan, Azhar became the fourth fastest Pakistani to achieve 5000 runs milestone; Asad Shafiq’s flawless 112-runs innings in the final innings was a testament to the fact that he is right up there in the class of elite batters.
Second factor on which we can count on, and Sri Lankans couldn’t, is the factor of Sarfraz’s captaincy. The Lankans have been struggling with picking up a consistent and a reliable captain. For sure, Chandimal replacing Matthews has to some extent extenuated the Lankan woes. However, Dinesh’s consistency remains to be assessed. Sarfraz, on the other hand, has been a battle-hardened captain, first with the U-19 and then with the national T20 and ODI teams. It is only a matter of time until he proves his mettle as a skipper in the all-excruciating format of the game that is test cricket. We vouched for Sarfraz to make Pakistan great again in ODI cricket, and we can certainly bank on his credentials for recuperation of Pakistan’s test cricket fortunes. Lest our volatile media wrenches the incipient test skipper, let us remind him that we will brook all his maverick tactics and decisions.
Third, Pakistan is blessed with a perennial supply of quality fast bowlers, an area where Sri Lanka have always struggled. Notwithstanding average fast bowling displays from the likes of Amir, Hassan Ali and Muhammad Abbas lately, bowling Sri Lanka out for just 96 in the second innings of second test was an unequivocal reminder to the cricketing world that never rule out Pakistan from a game of cricket until they have a quality quick in their ranks. And, fortunately enough, Pakistan always keep ‘those’ speed-stars in their bowling line-up.
“Pak Team will need to pull up its socks from now on after we say fair well to one of the best captains we have ever had”, tweeted a gracious yet concerned Wasim Akram the day Misbah announced his retirement. Surely, the sooner the Sarfraz eleven sort out their shortcomings the better. Having already being slipped to number seven in the ICC test ranking, Pakistan team management must select the right players, contemplate a better plan for batsmen’s placement and do away with average openers. We can only hope for these issues to be fixed before Pakistan take on England in their next test series in May, 2018. Until then, best wishes for the green shirts in their upcoming ODI endeavours.