Pakistan spinner Yasir Shah
Pakistan spinner Yasir Shah delivers the ball during the fourth day of the second Test match against New Zealand at the Dubai International Stadium on November 27, 2018. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: The graph of Pakistan’s performance in the ongoing Test series against New Zealand — to take some liberties with the phrase — has gone from the ridiculous to the sublime. In a space of less than a week, Sarfraz Ahmad’s men dusted off their demoralising defeat in the first Test in Abu Dhabi to bounce back with an innings victory on Tuesday.

While they will now look forward to closing out the series in the third and deciding Test match which begins in the capital on December 3, it’s imperative that they maintain the discipline shown across all disciplines in the contest here at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. The Pakistan cricket fans will surely be gloating over Yasir Shah’s 14-wicket performance, but the foundation was laid by some old fashioned Test batting from the two centurions — Harris Sohail, Babar Azam and Azhar Ali on the first two days of the Test match.

The way we went about this Test match was perfect. The idea was to set up with a big first innings — then we were able to exert pressure with the ball.

- Mickey Arthur | Pakistan coach

When asked about how the transformation took place, both Sarfraz and coach Mickey Arthur pointed out to a soul-searching session which made the difference. “We discussed exactly what went wrong. We worked through that and worked with the guys on backing the ability they have, to maintain that belief, which is so important — to have belief at this level.

“The way we went about this Test match was perfect. The idea was to set up with a big first innings, as we know first innings runs here are crucial — then we were able to exert pressure with the ball,” he noted.

A far cry, this, from Arthur’s reaction about a week back when the South African branded the heartbreak in the first Test as the ‘worst loss’ of his career. Even in the prematch press conference on Friday, Sarfraz had to fend off a query on whether the team needs psychiatric help to counter more challenging situations.

While the followers of Pakistan cricket will always cast a wary eye over their next campaign — one can say this unit has the foundations of being one of the most all-rounded teams out of their stables. The endless reserves of bowling talent had never been an issue with Pakistan, but it’s after quite a while that the batting line-up shows a glimmer of solidity in the shape of Imam-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Harris Sohail, Babar Azam and Sarfraz bringing up the lower middle order in number seven.

If the opening pair had raised any concerns with the experienced all rounder Mohammad Hafeez looking out of sorts against the new ball here, there are suggestions that Fakhar Zaman — the free-stroking opener in their white ball set-up — may be given a break.

The question mark over Sarfraz’s abilities as captain also refuses to go away — with experts even finding his sudden declaration late on second day in Dubai Test bit of a half-baked one. The effervescent stumper, however, has the strong backing of his coach and it’s a big plus to ensure continuity in the volatile atmosphere of Pakistan cricket.

“Sarfraz is an unsung hero. I know he gets a lot of flak, but he has captained very, very well this Test match again,” Arthur told the media.

“What goes unnoticed a lot of the time is his glovework. There are no dropped catches, no missed stumpings. Whatever needs to be done gets done.

“He ticks all the boxes. We keep a log, fielding numbers on every player in our team on what they have done, and Sarfraz is just incredible.”