Dubai: The pre-match calm around the Dubai International Cricket Stadium makes it difficult to fathom the high stakes in the second Test match between ‘hosts’ Pakistan and New Zealand, beginning on Saturday.
For Sarfraz Ahmad’s men, it will be a chance to show that their abject batting surrender to debutant spinner Ajaz Patel on the fourth day of the first Test in the capital was more of an aberration in an otherwise consistent sojourn in the UAE this season. A win in Dubai, meanwhile, will hand the Kiwis their first series triumph away against Pakistan since Graham Dowling led them to a 1-0 success in 1969.
The sense of panic among Pakistan batting line-up — not to speak of some poor shot selection during their chase of a modest target of 176 in Abu Dhabi — got under the nerves of Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur so much that he called it the ‘worst defeat’ of his career. And having been at the helm of the most unpredictable side in world cricket for well over two years now, the South African coach had seen quite a few of them.
It was actually a case of so-near-yet-so-far for Pakistan to let go a chance of going up in the series that must have been bothering Arthur, and it will only help his team’s cause if the feeling percolates down to the likes of Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq. It’s been after quite a while that the team has a batting line-up that has the bases covered — and the same combination had piled up two 400-plus totals against Australia last month in a series that they won 1-0.
Promising to bounce back in the series, Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmad said on Friday: “Whatever mistakes we committed, we have left them in Abu Dhabi. We had a meeting where we discussed the mistakes and how it should not be repeated here. This is an important Test for us so we should play good cricket.”
The team had been in the UAE since September for the Asia Cup and should know only too well that staying at the wicket is of paramount importance here to put the runs on the board and then subject the Kiwis under pressure. The team management feels there may be some moisture on the wicket but will have another look on Saturday before deciding whether to play an extra fast bowler or spinner.
The element of panic playing on Pakistan batsmen’s minds while chasing in a Test match brought up the issue of taking psychiatric help, Sarfraz seemed to have an open mind: “I have never coordinated with a sports psychologist so I don’t know, but have been hearing this for quite some time that psychologist can help how to handle under pressure. If it happens, then only I will be able to tell you whether it can help.”
Given the way the last three Test matches have panned out in the UAE, the toss has certainly played a key role and Sarfraz agreed to it fully. “Toss is very important as the pitch will turn on the fourth or fifth day and have patches. In the sub-continent, teams try to bat first when they win the toss so that they do not have to bat in the fourth innings. Pakistan team have come under pressure batting last — so we have to look at it,” he said.
Henry Nichols, one the key middle order batsmen for the Kiwis along with captain Kane Williamson and senior pro Ross Taylor, said the team was in a good frame of mind after an ideal start to the series. “Obviously, the way we won after not an ideal start. However, after winning the toss and getting bowled out for 153 and then bouncing back and finding ways in conditions that are foreign to us was nice. It gives us confidence heading into the second Test.
Wary of a potential backlash from Pakistan, Nichols said: “It’s nice to play three Tests and be in the series after the first Test and two to go. Pakistan will look to bounce back so it’s for us to improve at a different ground and different wicket, which we have to assess quickly and adjust with.”