New dawn for the Test side

Pakistan couldn't have asked for a better setting for life in Tests after #MisYou, writes K Shahid

New dawn for the Test side
By the time you read this, Sri Lanka’s tour to ‘Pakistan’ would’ve formally kicked off the day before, with the first of two Test matches being played at Abu Dhabi. Today (Friday) would be the second day of the first Test, before the series moves to Dubai next Friday, where Pakistan would play their third day and night 5-day game.

With the glittering careers of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan getting their curtail call in the historic win over West Indies in May, this is the first series that Pakistan would play since then. And it’s safe to say that Pakistan couldn’t have asked for a better setting than playing a struggling Sri Lanka, traversing a never ending transition, in the UAE.
With the stage set, and a new dawn, it is fitting that Pakistan have included five uncapped players in the squad

It might actually be even better than, hypothetically, taking the Lankans on in a Test series in Pakistan, since Pakistan have acclimatised themselves to the conditions – which have much greater impact in the longest version of the game – in the Emirates, and haven’t played a Test at their actual home since 2009.

There, of course, mightn’t be an opponent that’s shorter on confidence than Sri Lanka are right now.

This year Sri Lanka have been zipped three nil in South Africa, and at home by India, with the lowest margin of defeat in those six Tests being 206 runs. They even drew the two-match Test series at home against Bangladesh in March, after losing the second Test at Colombo by 4 wickets.

In addition to their whitewash against India – their latest outing – Sri Lanka were beaten 3-2 at home by Zimbabwe in ODIs – with a similar lineup – and then narrowly got over the line against them in the solitary Test.

Sarfraz Ahmed

For Pakistan, meanwhile, their latest Test assignment was the first ever win in the West Indies in May, which was followed by the first ever Champions Trophy win in June, and then the Independence Cup win in the T20 series against the World XI a couple of weeks ago.


Pakistan:Sarfraz Ahmed (C), Azhar Ali, Shan Masood, Sami Aslam, Babar Azam, AsadShafiq, HarisSohail, Usman Salahuddin, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Asghar, Bilal Asif, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Abbas, WahabRiaz

Sri Lanka: Dinesh Chandimal (C), LahiruThirimanne, DimuthKarunaratne, Kaushal Silva, KusalMendis, SadeeraSamarawickrama, Roshen Silva, NiroshanDickwella, RanganaHerath, Lakshan Sandakan, DilruwanPerera, SurangaLakmal, Nuwan Pradeep, Vishwa Fernando, LahiruGamage.

With the stage set, and the rise of a new dawn, it is fitting that Pakistan have included five uncapped players in the squad.

Batsmen HarisSohail and Usman Salahuddin have played ODIs, and at least one of them could be in the ongoing Test. Spinners Bilal Asif (all-rounder) and Mohammad Asghar(left-armer) have yet to play in Tests, and 25-year-old pacer Mir Hamza – with 216 wickets in 46 first-class matches over the last four years – is also one to watch out for.

With a two match Test series signifying that there can’t be a dead rubber, it would be interesting to see how the management utilises them.

However, what is evident is that the onus on the void left by Misbah and Younis, would fall largely on Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, with Babar Azam taking more responsibility now as well.

Babar Azam and Azhar Ali

The word is that Azhar Ali, easily Pakistan’s best Test batsman over the last year or so, will come down to the middle-order, despite establishing himself up top. This is a classic case of Azhar being there when the team needs him the most – whether it was up top when the openers were struggling or in the middle now that two heavyweights have simultaneously retired.

Barring that breathtaking 137 at the Gabba against Australia, that so nearly handed the most outrageous of wins to Pakistan, Asad Shafiq has had a quiet 15 months. But he would now be at the centre of the batting lineup, as the second of the two pillared anchor for Pakistan batting in the years to come.

Sami Aslam

Babar Azam’s prolific run tally in the shorter formats, and his impressive start to Tests, would now result in more expectations from him. And there’s no reason why he can’t live up to his increasingly rising billing.

With Azhar going down the order, Shan Masood and Sami Aslam might be expected to patch together a new opening partnership soon. And as discussed above, they might not get a better setting to do so.

Elsewhere, while the bowling lineup – spearheaded by Yasir Shah – is expected to feature usual suspects, all eyes would be on Sarfraz Ahmed and how he deals with the challenge of Test captaincy.

He is now the captain for Pakistan in all three formats and also the skipper for his PSL side, the Quetta Gladiators. Even so, few Pakistani captains have had to step into shoes as big as Misbah’s in Test cricket. That particular challenge begins for the Pakistani skipper this week.