Watershed moment

After rain washed out the Rawalpindi Test, K Shahid looks ahead to the decider in Karachi

Watershed moment
By the time you read this the second day of the second and final Test match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka would have begun, with the match scheduled to start on Thursday. With rain having virtually washed off three days of the first Test in Rawalpindi, which had been dominated by the feel-good factor surrounding the return of five-day cricket to the country after a decade, most of the focus in Karachi would be on matters on the field.

In addition to the contest rounding off the year, and indeed an evolving decade for Pakistan cricket, it already carries significance for the new Misbah-ul-Haq regime little over three months into their tenure. Following a winless tour to Australia in both the T20 and Test series, in addition to the 3-0 sweep against Sri Lanka in the T20Is at home in October, the Karachi Test almost is a must win for the management.

Naseem Shah

Both Misbah himself, and the Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman Ehsan Mani, have touted a one-year period to truly gauge where the new management stands. However, back to back series defeats in the two most crucial formats – given the significance of Test cricket and the T20I World Cup next year – would send the already ringing alarm bells into complete chaos.

On the contrary, a win in Karachi, would give much needed respite to the team and the management heading into next month’s series against Bangladesh. Do well there and all of a sudden everything’s sunny and no one will care that among all the positions that he already holds Misbah will also be the head coach of Islamabad United in the upcoming Pakistan Super League.

Of course, while similar weather forecast to Rawalpindi isn’t thankfully there for Karachi, given the batting friendly nature of the deck, a draw can’t be ruled out. But with Pakistan doing well with the bat –even in Australia, relatively, especially given how New Zealand are struggling Down Under – the superior pace attack gives the edge to the home side on paper.
A win in the second Test would give much needed respite to the Pakistan team and management

Furthermore, Yasir Shah is expected to take his place in the starting 11 again. He was released early from the Rawalpindi Test to allow him to practice at the National Cricket Academy, to ensure that he’s in complete rhythm for Karachi.

While of course the selection would be known by the time you read this, we would wholeheartedly support the inclusion of Fawad Alam in the starting 11. That would’ve meant Haris Sohail missing out, which would still be a fraction of “injustice” compared what has been meted out to Fawad by multiple regimes over the past decade. Also, even forgetting the past and going horses for courses, Fawad on his home ground is a significantly better shout than Haris.

Azhar Ali

Rain poured down in Rawalpindi

Even so, it’s early days but Misbah appears to be dismissive about pressure from the outside. It’s one thing to have confidence in your judgement and not let others dictate your job, and another to discard external opinion because you want to establish who the boss is. Let’s hope it’s not a case of the latter, and Pakistan’s selector-coach exhibits similar prudence that he did in his playing career, which made him the most successful Test captain in the history of Pakistan cricket.

With Yasir Shah coming in for Usman Shinwari, the rest of the team is likely to be the same. Abid Ali and Babar Azam mustered the runs on the last day Rawalpindi, with the former creating the world record of being the first man to score a hundred on both the Test and ODI debuts. They should start from where they left off.

Meanwhile, the pressure is on captain Azhar Ali to finally score well, lest his position in the side come under even more scrutiny. Shan Masood, who has done fairly well on the tough tours of South Africa and Australia over the past year, needs to start stamping himself on Pakistan’s designated home Tests as well.