PAKISTAN VS NEW ZEALAND IN UAE, 2018
This was the seventh time since 2016 that Pakistan lost all ten wickets on the final day’s play. © AFP
This was the seventh time since 2016 that Pakistan lost all ten wickets on the final day’s play. Before they botched up the 280-run chase on the fifth day of the third and final Test, their most recent capitulation was in the first Test of the series at the same venue.
The script of the collapse was the same — well, it never changes. One of the openers, unaware of his off-stump, provides the opening; the most trusted batsman falls to a jaffa which follows soft middle-order dismissals; one of the last pairs of recognized batsmen offers a brief resistance before the opposition bowlers pulverize the tail.
When New Zealand put Pakistan to bat after smoking 81 runs off the first nine overs of the day, it was pretty evident what was to come. The past record did not favour Pakistan too. On the previous five occasions, only once the team batting fourth had secured a win at Abu Dhabi.
But it’s not that Pakistan lost the series because of their final-day collapses. It was their failure to build up a big first innings lead was what saw the first and third Tests end up in excruciating defeats.
In the first Test, Pakistan were strolling comfortably with a lead of 21 runs, with a substantial three-digit lead on the cards, until an epic batting collapse saw their last six wickets add only 53 runs. On the third day of this Test as well, Pakistan looked strong going at 286 for 3, with Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq at the crease. The fall of Azhar’s wicket sparked another collapse and Pakistan lost seven wickets for 62 runs.
“This has been a very disappointing series for us,” Sarfraz Ahmed said. “We got chances to dominate in all three matches and we let them go. In the first Test we did not take a good first innings lead because of which we lost by four runs. Here as well, we did get an opportunity to build a big lead which we did not utilize and we had to face the consequences.
“Had we taken a lead of 100 or 125 it could have troubled New Zealand. Batting longer would have also reduced the time that we had to bat. We made a mistake at that point as a batting unit because of which the team had to suffer.
“I had said before the Test series that consistency is of great importance. Batting coaches do work with the batsmen by highlighting technical issues, but a batsman needs to stretch his good form. We should look at Kane Williamson on how he has towed his team with his batting throughout the series.
“The most problematic is our tail. Batsmen do get out sometimes, but the tail needs to take responsibility and add 25-50 runs. A lot of hard work is done by them so it should be ensured that when a batsman is batting with them, there is no irresponsibility.”
A lot of these failures have to do with the failure of the openers to provide their middle-order batsmen the desired platform. Except the first innings of this season, in which Mohammad Hafeez and Imam ul Haq engineered a 205-run stand, the maximum that their openers have lasted is for 12.5 overs – which was in the second innings of the same match.
In the just-concluded three-match series against New Zealand, Imam ul Haq and Mohammad Hafeez managed just 73 and 47 across five innings.
“Coaches have their responsibilities but our batsmen need to realise theirs and be mentally strong,” Sarfraz said. “We will have to look into it and this has been an issue for us for the past two years. It needs to be looked at that why our opening pair fails to cope up against the new ball. It is the key to set momentum especially when you know it won’t be easy to bat on the fifth day as the new ball grips on the surface. If the openers fail to provide the platform, the batsmen under them will feel the pressure. The same happened today.”
After Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq scored remarkable centuries that not only brought Pakistan out of a sticky spot but also gave the hosts control of the game, albeit temporarily, the duo was expected to do the same. However, Azhar, on five, fell to a Colin de Grandhomme delivery that nibbled away and squared him up. Shafiq registered a first-ball duck.
It is not like the two have been in such stellar form that this screw up could have been avoided. The aforementioned hundreds were their first this year. Shafiq can be cut some slack for averaging 38, a run below his overall average, throughout the year before the first innings century but Azhar averaged 26 coming into the match.
Does their performance merit some kind of action? “You cannot take a drastic action,” replied Sarfraz. “Both are senior players and cannot be dropped. They took the team out of a difficult situation with their centuries in the first innings. Azhar got a good delivery today. Yes, they should not be playing rash strokes. It all comes back to getting a solid start. If the openers perform well against the new ball and provide the platform, then the middle order will also be able to perform. When the openers get out cheaply, the whole day is spent in rebuilding the innings.”
This was Pakistan’s second series loss in the UAE in a year. From 2010 till 2016, they had never lost a series here. Their next assignment in whites begins with a Boxing Day Test, when they face South Africa in South Africa to kick-start a three-match series. Their consistent collapses in the UAE, which is largely known for its batting-friendly conditions, coupled with an awful recent home record doesn’t bode well.
“It is definitely painful [to lose in the UAE]. And, of course, it does raise a question that how would we win in South Africa if we are not winning at home. Our bowling is doing fine but we will have to work a lot on our batting. We are not scoring big runs here. In South Africa we will have to face more challenging conditions. We will talk about this with our batsmen when we reach there. We will look at the suitable top-order batsmen who can score there.”