Ahmed Shehzad plays a shot during the first Test match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at Galle © AFP
The fifth day approach of Pakistan in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Galle was one example of the batting falling apart trying to save the Test rather than playing their natural game. Abhijit Banare analyses the batting ahead of the final test at Colombo.
While the officials within the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) are still busy playing musical chairs, the only thing that seems constant about Pakistan cricket these days is its batting. A seven-month gap has not changed the unpredictability they showed before. At times they’ll pull off some stunning chase and then there examples like the Galle Test. Click Here for highlights of Sri Lanka vs Pakistan 1st Test
Restraining their natural game? While Test cricket requires a good temperament, it never restrained someone like Virender Sehwag for who he was. The attacking strokes redefined the definition of ‘batting naturally’ in the longest format of the game just as much as the celebrated Sri Lankan openers did for the 50-over format. The Pakistan team is still in its rebuilding phase just like many other teams, and a few players might walk in an d walk out in the next one or two years. However, the present young lot are a naturally aggressive batsmen. Look at Khurram Manzoor, Azhar Ali and Ahmed Shehzad, the top three of the current Test line-up. These are free-flowing batsmen and love to score quickly. Their approach in holding on to the crease only added pressure to the rest of the batting line-up. And more so, if the batsmen to fall are Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan – two batsmen known to grind the bowlers down before they start scoring fluently. Sarfaraz Ahmed did show glimpses of his natural style lower down the order.
What beyond Younis-Misbah partnerships? 30 innings, 1821 runs with 10 century partnerships at an average of 70.03. Another way to look at it, a Pakistan fan heaves a sigh of relief when their team is three down at any stage of the game. The team is heavily dependent on this duo to take them through. While they have live up to the expectations every time, it certainly isn’t going to assist them in any way going ahead. Both players are in twilight of their Test careers. Moreover, it also gives a sense of confidence for the opposition that if they get past this partnership, they do stand a good chance of bowling them out early.
The key players: Ahmed Shehzad, Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali will be the key players to watch out for in the years ahead. It’s not just about ‘potential’ but these three have proven their abilities on different occasions that they are good enough for this format of the game. Shehzad (147) and Azhar (103) against Lanka at Sharjah and Shafiq (130) against South Africa were laudable. Both Azhar and Shafiq have enough experience at this level to take the batting ahead.
The bright hope for Pakistan lies in the lower order where Sarfaraz has contributed handsomely with two half-centuries batting at No 7. They have been fiddling around with various options and Ahmed’s growth as a keeper-batsman will be a huge relief. Sarfaraz also showed the rest of the line-up the way by sticking to his aggressive style. At 293 for five in the first innings, he could have still played for the big shot and lost his way. On the other hand, the 71-ball 55 only helped Pakistan to make rapid strides while Younis anchored the other end. Shafiq and Sarfaraz at No 6 and No 7 add solidity to the lower order. But with time, the retirement of the senior pros could see them bat higher up.
Like many of their players in the past, Pakistan have enough talent, it’s time they stick with their natural style and deliver the results. Colombo could still see a different Pakistan. The home side will be anxious to send their legend off with a win and Pakistan, as unpredictable as they are, could go on to script an unlikely victory.
Complete coverage of Pakistan tour of Sri Lanka 2014 here
(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)