Dubai: Pakistan may have dominated the first Test but in the end it was Australia, by pulling off a gritty draw, walked away with their heads held high on Thursday. A result — which brings Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmad’s captaincy under scrutiny once again.
Sarfraz’s skills as a captain were already questioned by many soon after Pakistan’s poor Asia Cup performance. It is a rare instance that the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has retained a captain after losing two matches to India. In the Asia Cup, Pakistan had lost heavily to India, but a victory over Australia in this Test match could have silenced some of Sarfraz’s critics.
The Pakistan team will need to introspect for failing to win the first Test and must go for the kill right from the start against the Aussies in the second Test in Abu Dhabi, scheduled from October 16.
Sarfraz may have his own justification on how he used his bowlers but quite intriguing is the fact that Mohammad Abbas, who had struck thrice towards the close of fourth day, wasn’t given an over till 15 overs into the final day. When Abbas was undoubtedly the most effective bowler, it wasn’t necessary to try out Wahab Riaz who wasn’t impressive at all throughout the match.
Sarfraz defended his decision stating that he did that because left-handers were at the crease; but the fact remains that his ploy did not work. He also failed to guide Yasir Shah, who struggled to hit the rough spots, with any insights. If all these weren’t enough, he also failed to force a review for a plumb leg before decision.
In the end, it was Australian skipper Tim Paine who received a pat on his back for not only his fighting unbeaten knock but also the way he transformed his players into fighters.
“We need to work hard and from Tests you learn as much as you play. We have little things to work on,” remarked Sarfraz after the match.
It is true that every Test match is a learning curve, but it is difficult to justify not winning a Test match after getting a first innings lead of 280 runs and having enough time on hand to get the 20 wickets. Sarfraz’s defence was: “We could have won this Test, but Test matches are like this. We are upset, but the opposition also played well and we need to acknowledge that.”
This response is unlikely to justify those who have been critical about his captaincy. The goodwill that Sarfraz generated by leading an inexperienced team to ICC Champions Trophy triumph last year seems to be a distant past.
Australia, without two of their star players Steve Smith and David Warner, who have been banned following the ball-tampering case, must have gained enough courage from this draw. They were under pressure before the start but this result will make them psychologically stronger and mount a bigger challenge in the next Test match.