Pressure on Sarfraz as nervous Pakistan face resurgent Australia in Abu Dhabi

Series decider will begin from Tuesday at Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium

Pressure on Sarfraz as nervous Pakistan face resurgent Australia in Abu Dhabi PHOTO: AFP

Since Sarfraz Ahmed’s appointment as the captain of the Pakistan Test side in 2017, the Green Caps have found going tough in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — a place which was considered as their fortress under the leadership of Misbahul Haq. 

Sarfraz was part and parcel of the Misbah-led unit during the Men in Green’s sheer dominance in the UAE and one could not help but believe that he would have grown accustomed to the tricks of the trade, with the added advantage of witnessing it from arguably the best position on the field.

But so far, the wicketkeeper-batsman’s tactical acumen has been found wanting — team selection decisions and bowling rotations are questionable — as his side struggled to replicate their predecessor’s supremacy.

"I told Sarfraz that we should have gone with Abbas and Yasir but he had spoken to some senior players and they told him to bowl with Wahab Riaz,” said Arthur after the first Test ended in a draw, which was the first indication that the captain and the coach was not on the same page.    

Although pessimism normally has a draining impact but it would be churlish to ignore this completely.

Bearing in mind how Arthur’s previous coaching stints ended with South Africa and Australia — breakdown in relationship with Proteas captain Graeme Smith followed by the infamous ‘homework gate’ — it would be far from ideal for Pakistan to follow suit.

Arthur’s astute tactical nous and Sarfraz’s exuberance is a combination Pakistan can ill afford to tamper with. It was nice to see Sarfraz clear the air by stating the duo have resolved their issues on the eve of the second Test.

Two defeats and a stalemate on the bounce is the not the sort of results the fans expected in conditions where winning was considered a norm for Pakistan.

Although the sample size is still relatively small, but even then, the repercussions of anything other than a win in Abu Dhabi could have a snowballing effect on Sarfraz’s fledgling career as Test captain.

Abu Dhabi calling

Despite dominating the first Test in Dubai for a major chunk of the match, failing to cross the line would have been a bitter pill to swallow for Pakistan but they must crack on and forget the disappointment if they are to succeed in Abu Dhabi.

Home side will be looking to rebuild their depleted aura in UAE by stamping their authority at Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium — easier said than done though — but they must be aware of the fact that Australia will come into this Test match with nothing to lose.

By avoiding defeat in the first Test courtesy a resilient batting effort on the final day of the match, despite the odds stacked against them, Aussies have thrown down the gauntlet.

Although there are still question marks over the visitors’ ability to play the spinners but coming out of the Dubai Test unscathed will reduce their propensity to crack under pressure in spin friendly conditions.

Top-order batsman Azhar Ali admitted that Pakistan will be feeling the heat heading into the series-decider; something which the Tim Paine-led contingent can exploit to their advantage.

“I can’t say if the pressure will be more on Pakistan or Australia but we are the home side and obviously people expect us to win. So there is pressure,” said Azhar.

Chopping and changing

It is reasonable to expect that both teams will be inclined to make at least one change in the playing XI which featured in the Dubai Test.

Pakistan will be forced to bring in a replacement for injured opener Imamul Haq while pacer Wahab Riaz’s uninspiring bowling performance in Dubai could also prompt a change.

Sarfraz revealed in his pre-match press conference that Zaman will make his debut at the top of the order while one of Mir Hamza or Shadab Khan will replace Riaz with the chances of the former making his debut more likely.

Pakistan can also opt for Shadab Khan — if he is fully fit — as he will bring another bowling option while also being handy with the bat lower down the order.

On the other hand, Australia will be pondering over whether to axe Marnus Labuschagne from the side after just a single match — as he failed to impress with the bat in the first Test — in favour of Matt Renshaw.

Additionally, the Kangaroos will probably stick to the same bowling arsenal keeping in mind the lack of experience they have on the bench in this regard.