Abu Dhabi: South African pacer Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander will be lying in wait after seeing what New Zealand did to Pakistan in their first away 2-1 series win in 49 years.
The Pakistan batsmen’s susceptibility at the top and their repeated collapses in second innings in home conditions clearly puts them as underdogs for this away series against the Proteas starting with a Boxing Day Test.
Senior players such as Azhar Ali and Assad Shafiq may have scored centuries but their inability to hold fort in the second innings came to the fore.
The duo couldn’t take Pakistan home in the first Test that they lost by a mere four runs and they again failed miserably in the second innings of the decider. There will be tremendous pressure on the duo to deliver in South Africa.
Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmad, however, came to their defence saying it would be too harsh to take action against the duo just because they are the senior players in the team.
“You can’t drop them. They scored hundreds and took us out of trouble,” said Sarfraz, whose Test captaincy is also under a cloud as voices for his removal have gathered pace following the setback against the Black Caps. “That time we needed their hundreds. In the second innings look at the balls they got out to, Azhar was out to a good ball. They did not commit mistakes but the bowlers bowled well.”
Though the skipper has announced that he will not be clinging on to the post if mistakes continue, it doesn’t put him in good light heading out for a tough series against South Africa. His captaincy will come under tremendous scrutiny. And so will be that of coach Mickey Arthur and batting coach Grant Flower, who have been unable to stem these last-innings collapses — six since 2016.
“The new ball is getting crucial for us, if you lose early wickets on the first day then you struggle to come back in the match,” said Sarfraz. “When we get a good start then its good, we need openers to stay longer on the new ball, that’s what happened. The seam was hard and spinner got two wickets in an over.” The skipper came to the defence of both Arthur and Flower saying: “Before the series, I had said that it’s the responsibility of the batsmen. The batting coach does his job. He tells them the basic faults and helps them improve their technique. But if the batsman is in form then he has to carry that form.”
Pakistan have boosted their bowling arsenal by recalling pacer Mohammad Amir and leg-spinner Shadab Khan. Amir makes a comeback in the team after regaining his form in domestic cricket, while Shadab has fully recovered from a hamstring problem. Openers Fakhar Zaman and Shan Masood also made the squad.
Chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq’s nephew Imam may have got another chance despite scoring a mere 73 runs in three Tests against New Zealand but he too will be very well aware of how crucial this series is going to be in shaping up his future.
The inclusion of wicketkeeper batsman Mohammad Rizwan as Sarfraz’s understudy also has a clear message for the latter that he too is not indispensable and needs to make his willow talk.
Inzamam who was grilled in Lahore by media persons has warned that heads will roll if results don’t come.
“We have been watching this for a year and have to start working on this,” he said. “The thing is international cricket is the name for dealing with pressure and we are unable to deal with the pressure of fourth innings. “All three matches against New Zealand were in our hands. If this sort of performance continues, then there will be changes in the team,” he said.