ON THE DEFENSIVE
Apart from an inspired spell on the final day, Yasir Shah had an underwhelming Test in Dubai © Getty
They say comebacks are tougher than debuts. There aren’t many expectations from a debutant as there are no previous records of that player at that level. But, when it comes to reclaim a spot, one is expected to at least match, if not better, their previous performances. And when it comes to a bowler of the calibre of Yasir Shah, the expectations are right up there.
Since his Test debut in 2014, Yasir has been ripping batting lineups apart. He is the fastest bowler to 50 Test wickets from Pakistan and overall joint second-fastest to 100 and 150 Test wickets. But, such is a pressure of a Test return that Yasir, who was marking his return to Test cricket after nursing a hip injury, failed to take a wicket in the first innings. This went down as the first instance that his wickets column remained empty in an innings in a Test in the UAE.
He remained wicketless for the first four days of the Test before doing what he is known for. He removed three wickets, including Usman Khawaja’s, in seven balls to give Pakistan a ray of hope in the latter part of the evening session in a match traipsing towards a draw. He had removed Marnus Labuschagne earlier in the day. So, at the end, his match figures were 4 for 194. Definitely not in line with the standards set by Yasir Shah.
“Yasir Shah is playing Test cricket after a year. So, I think we should give some margin to him,” Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed said after the match on Thursday (October 11). “This was his first match after a long time … Yes, he has practised and played domestic cricket. But, Test cricket is a different ball game altogether. We should give him a chance. He is our main bowler. This is a part of cricket. It was Yasir who got us back into the game after picking up three wickets. We should not write him off just yet. He has put up performances for Pakistan in the past.”
Sarfraz remained under the scanner for his on-field decisions throughout the Test. After deciding to declare eight overs into the afternoon session on day four, the Pakistan captain allowed the Australian openers to get off the hook by keeping fielders at the boundary rope. Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja batted for 29.4 overs, rotating the strike at will. It was only after Mohammad Abbas’s back-to-back blows that fielders were placed near the batsmen. On the fifth morning of the Test, again, Khawaja and Travis Head faced no real pressure because of field placements as the first session went wicketless and the two batted for 49 overs.
Sarfraz opened the final day with Wahab Riaz and Bilal Asif, keeping his best bowler of the previous day, Abbas, waiting for 15 overs. Mohammad Hafeez, who accounted for Labuschagne’s wicket on his first ball of the day, bowled only four overs. “Overall, I am satisfied with my bowling changes,” Sarfraz said. “Our bowling changes were correct. We utilised Hafeez to his full potential. After a change in his bowling action, he has lost some pace. We had actually brought him in the side primarily as an opening batsman and a fifth bowling option. We tried to bowl our main bowlers. These may come across as wrong bowling changes. Because, we couldn’t get wickets at the right instances.
“We wanted our best bowler to bowl a longer spell. So, we opened the day with Wahab. We wanted to make the most of the reverse-swing. Batsmen can normally negate the ball going away from them. We wanted Wahab to reverse the ball back into the both left-handers at a daunting pace.”
Pakistan and Australia have four days to rest before the final Test kicks off at Abu Dhabi. The hosts will have to redraw their strategy when it comes to batting as Imam ul Haq has been ruled out of the Test series due to a fracture on the fifth finger of his left-hand. He sustained the injury while fielding. With the opening spot vacant, Fakhar Zaman might get a Test debut. Also, back-up wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan has been sent back to Pakistan ‘A’ squad.