UAE has been Pakistan’s so-called “home ground” since the ill fated attack on the Sri Lankan team in 2009. Since then, the Pakistani team built this into a fortress. They became almost invincible at Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. Former world No.1’s Australia, England and South Africa all tried to breach this fortress but instead they got humiliated themselves. So much so that England were whitewashed twice and Australia were at the receiving end of a whitewash too.
So when a badly bruised and battered Sri Lankan team arrived in the UAE to face Pakistan, they were expected to be mere pushovers for the Pakistani team. Like Australia had been, like England, like West Indies, like New Zealand and like the Sri Lanka of old had been. But call this a rejuvenated Sri Lankan performance or a clumsy Pakistani performance but Sri Lanka pipped Pakistan by just 21 runs in the 1st test at Abu Dhabi to claim an improbable win to go 1-0 up in the series.
Parity was supposed to be restored when the teams traveled to Dubai with Pakistan looking to bounce back and keep their unbeaten run in the UAE alive. But they suffered a big blow as Dinesh Chandimal won the toss and elected to bat first. Silva and Karunaratne put on a solid opening partnership but Sri Lanka soon found themselves in a spot of bother at 136-3. But Karunaratne studied the ship along with Chandimal who went on to make a composed 62. Dickwella and Perera then batted around Karunaratne with both of them scoring quick half-centuries. Karunaratne himself made his career best 196 and he was unlucky to be bowled on 196 courtesy a big inside edge as Sri Lanka finished their 1st innings at 482. Yasir Shah was the pick of the Pakistani bowlers, taking 6 wickets but those 6 wickets came at a cost of 184 runs.
The Pakistani batting failed once again as only Haris Sohail and Azhar Ali showed some resistance scoring 56 and 59 respectively as Pakistan were bowled out for only 262 in their 1st innings. Herath and Perera took 3 wickets each and Lakmal and Gamage picked 2 each as Sri Lanka decided not to enforce the follow on.
Late in day 3, the Pakistani bowlers came out all guns blazing as they reduced Sri Lanka to 34-5 by the end of day 3. The Sri Lankan tail didn’t wag too much either as they were eventually bowled out for 96 on the 4th day, giving them a healthy lead of 317 runs. For Pakistan, Wahab Riaz claimed 4 wickets and Haris Sohail took 3 to continue his excellent start to his test career.
Pakistan were given a target of 317 runs, a huge task on a day 4 and day 5 pitch. To make matters worse, the batsmen went into their shells from the very beginning. With the pitch not showing any demons, this was uncalled for and Pakistan’s defensive approach soon saw them reeling at 52-5. With a further 265 runs required, Pakistan were down and out and were staring down the barrel. But in a show of utmost grit and resolve, Asad Shafiq and skipper Sarfraz Ahmed counter attacked in the post dinner session on day 4 to put on a staggering 146 runs in only 33 overs. Pakistan were 198-5 at stumps on day 4 and they sure had ruffled a few feathers in the Sri Lankan dressing room. They started day 5 on a positive note too with both batsmen attacking but Sri Lanka knew that they were just 1 wicket away from victory. And as Sarfraz Ahmed fell at 225, it was all but over. The innings finally concluded on 248 with Asad Shafiq scoring a valiant 112. Perera was the wrecker-in-chief for Sri Lanka as he picked up a 5 wicket haul.
It was all over. The fortress which had withstood multitude attacks had finally been breached. Of all the teams, this current Sri Lankan team was the last one could think of, who would go on to break Pakistan’s streak. But Sri Lanka were clearly the better team as they leapfrogged Pakistan into the 6th position in the ICC rankings.
Where it all went wrong:
- The selection was a bit flawed to start with. Sami Aslam and Shan Masood were picked ahead of Imam ul Haq, Salman Butt, Fakhar Zaman and Sahibzada Farhan, all of who had better stats than the selected openers in the 2016-17 first class season.
- Pakistan’s success in the UAE has been largely down to their spinners dominating the oppositions. Pakistan played both matches of this series with a 3-1 fast bowling combination instead of the 2-2 which Misbah so efficiently used.
- Mohammad Amir: This guy needs to realize his honeymoon period is over. Ever since he’s come back, he’s looked a pretty ordinary bowler except that magical Champions Trophy final. With just 1 wicket in the 2 test matches, he needs to improve big time or the domestic performers Tabish Khan, Mir Hamza, Usman Shinwari, Sameen Gul and Sadaf Hussain etc will keep mounting the pressure on him.
- Babar Azam: Babar currently is one of the hottest prospects in the limited overs circuit with his average over 50 in both the ODI’s and the T20’s. But he hasn’t been able to carry that form into the test matches too. He needs to be dropped for a series or two and it needs to be seen how he performs in the domestic circuit. Usman Salahuddin or Fawad Alam can come in for him.
- Tinkering with Asad Shafiq’s batting number hasn’t helped his cause either. He recently broke Sir Gary Sobers’ record of most centuries batting at number 6 but due to the void created by Misbah’s and Younis’ retirement, he was promoted to number 4. After a string of dismal performances at 4, he was sent back to his original number 6 position and he didn’t disappoint, scoring a century on his return there. Maybe that should be his permanent position and Haris Sohail can be groomed into a good number 4 batsman.
The ODI series now begins on Friday. Let’s hope a change in the format can bring a change in Pakistan’s fortunes too. Till then, it’s goodbye!