Writing in his latest blog for PakPassion.net, former Pakistan fast-bowler Mohammad Zahid explains why Pakistan's Test batsmen are ill-equipped for the ongoing tour of South Africa, the problem of a lack of good opening batsmen for Pakistan, why Asad Shafiq needs to be replaced for the second Test, unnecessary pressure on Sarfaraz Ahmed to step down as captain, importance of Mohammad Abbas to the visitor's bowling attack and Pakistan's chances of victory in the remaining two Test matches.
By Mohammad Zahid (31st December, 2018)
Touring South Africa has never been easy, even for the world No. 1 side India
Let me start by saying that for me, just like for any supporter of Pakistan cricket, the loss to South Africa in the first Test match was very disappointing. We appeared to have an upper hand at times but then could not maintain the pressure that was required to win against a top-class Test side. Of course, we can look for all sorts of excuses, but the plain fact is that touring South Africa has always been a tough task for any side as the world’s No. 1 side India found to their discomfort as well and Pakistan in that sense, did not fare any better or worse in the first Test. Now, one can argue and discuss the merits of selections of a few players in the squad, but the fact is that the selectors, in their wisdom, sent the best possible squad they could find and should not be criticised on that account.
Pakistan batsman are not technically equipped to play on South African pitches
The basic issue in my view is that our batsman usually play in the UAE where there is low bounce and pitches which are absolutely dead. They are used to planting their front foot without too much thought and playing the ball away from their bodies with literally their eyes closed and they usually get away with it. But on this tour, the South African conditions present a real test for the skills of our batsman and unfortunately, they have been found wanting when challenged by the opposition bowlers. Once again, this is not the easiest of tours and to be fair, the pitch at Centurion was a very tough one to play on as even the South African batsmen looked uncomfortable on it. In a sense, the result of the first Test represents the fact that Pakistan played worse than South Africa on a difficult batting surface and I don’t really think that the home-side had a clear superiority in any way. This is Test cricket and teams do lose matches but the real test is to see how they recover from such situations, so all eyes will be on the second Test in Cape Town to see if Pakistan have it in them to stage a good recovery.
Mickey Arthur and co have to sort out the opening conundrumOne of the main issues with our Test batting in recent times has been the inability of our openers to put on partnerships which can really help out the later order batsmen. Of course, there are exceptions as we saw in the second innings in the first Test where after the opening stand of 44 and then a subsequent 57 run partnership, Pakistan managed to squander a good position to be bowled out for 190. So, opening the innings is a major issue and I would think that Mickey Arthur and co have to sort out the opening conundrum as soon as possible if Pakistan are to get any results in their favour on the rest of the tour. But, once again, playing in the UAE where even ordinary batsmen can score hundreds makes everyone feel that they have found the solution to this problem, only to be exposed when playing in foreign conditions. Having said that, I am impressed with Shan Masood’s performances in the first Test, although I am a bit surprised that many people have marked him as one who is in the team based on connections. I would say that in our culture, its very normal to be labelled in this way and my view is simply that if a player is performing then nothing else really matters. The fact is that you really cannot have made it to the team and performed in South Africa without having ability and Shan has shown plenty of proof of that in the first Test.Just having good technique doesn’t mean you are an automatic pick for the sideAsad Shafiq has been touted as one of the mainstays of the Pakistan Test side, especially after the retirements of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. I feel that he has been given too many chances, but his performances have not been that consistent. After all, it’s the runs that a batsman scores which sets him apart from others and is the justification for his presence in the side. Just having good technique that is pleasing to the eye doesn’t mean you are an automatic pick for the side and that is Asad’s problem too. He will need to be replaced for the next match with a better player which could make the difference for the series. It will also serve as a reminder for Asad that he is not indispensable and may turn out to be a good move in the long-run. In comparison, Azhar Ali seems to be working hard and producing some good performances for Pakistan. There will always be some matches that he will not do well but he has and continues to show some spark. But even he has to prove a lot to his critics and I would like to see him score some runs away from UAE in challenging conditions such as those that can be found in South Africa. Mohammad Abbas’s presence could well have changed the outcome of the first TestThe Pakistani fast-bowlers bowled well and did provide some hope to the side. But I feel that the absence of Mohammad Abbas in the first Test was clearly felt by Pakistan. His immaculate line and length could well have ensured a different result for Pakistan but that is all history now. There was also some debate about the inclusion of Yasir Shah in the playing eleven and I disagree with those who feel that he had no place in the side as sometimes a spinner is needed for variety or simply for giving a break to the fast-bowlers. And if that spinner can be someone of the calibre of Yasir Shah then you really can’t go wrong, even on a green pitch of the type we saw at Centurion. Too much pressure on Sarfaraz Ahmed to be replaced as captainI feel that too much unnecessary pressure is being placed on Pakistan Test captain Sarfaraz Ahmed and calls for his replacement mid-tour are not needed. Yes, there are question marks around his performances but then players can have good and bad matches which is par for the course. What that does not mean is that there should be no pressure on Sarfaraz to perform better. Players must feel that there is a sword hanging on their heads which makes them less complacent and also makes them work harder to maintain their place in the side. Chances of a positive Test series result for Pakistan in South Africa are weakWhilst I am encouraged by the fact that Mohammad Abbas is likely to return for the rest of the series, it is with a heavy heart that I say that the chances of a positive Test series result for Pakistan in South Africa are looking rather weak. We pride ourselves on having a good bowling attack but to be honest, the bowling has not clicked to the extent I thought it would. The 149-run target that South Africa were presented with in the first Test was not an easy one, yet they were able to achieve it with the loss of four wickets against our bowling attack which is disappointing. One hopes and prays that we can perform better in the next two matches but regardless of the outcome of the series, it is important that changes be made to the Pakistan Test side based on lessons learnt from this tour.