Test cricket is not easy. But some assignments are easier than others. Pakistan’s series against Sri Lanka falls in that category.
Discussions around this series have essentially focused two names who won’t be part of the contest. Pakistan have grown used to Misbah-ul Haq and Younis Khan bailing them out in Tests but must now learn to live without them. The enormity of that fact will be felt over the coming days and months.
Pakistan begin a new chapter in their incredible history and as is generally the case, there is bound to be some uncertainty. However, Sri Lanka offer the smoothest possible initiation into the post Mis-You era for Sarfraz and Pakistan.
For the islanders, 2017 has been an unmitigated disaster. They have lost 26 out of 38 international matches this year, were blanked 9-0 across formats at home by India and even managed to lose an ODI series to Zimbabwe.
Their entire selection committee resigned during the India series and are pretty much at the lowest point in their cricketing history. In short, it’s advantage Pakistan even before the toss in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.
On paper, Pakistan hold the upper hand. Even without Misbah and Younis, they look the more settled batting unit with Azhar Ali the bulwark of the batting unit and Babar Azam and Asad Shafiq the trusted lieutenants. Sarfraz provides as much leadership in the field as he does lower down the order with the bat.
Against a dispirited Sri Lankan bowling outfit whose main threat is the 39-year-old left-arm spinner Rangana Herath who is quite some way from his best, the omens look good for Pakistan.
Bowling has hardly even been an issue for Pakistan and after leg-spinner Yasir Shah passed a late fitness test, the management will be even more confident. Especially because their opponents managed to cross the 300-run mark only once in six attempts against India.
The biggest factor working in Pakistan’s favour comes from outside the Test arena. It’s the general air of positivity that has enveloped Pakistan cricket in 2017 and Sarfraz is at the front and centre of it. It was the wicketkeeper batsman who inspired Pakistan’s movie-worthy charge to the Champions Trophy title in England and then oversaw a successful T20 campaign against a World XI side at home that heralded the return of meaningful cricket to Pakistan. Admittedly, all that happened in limited overs formats but cricket isn’t played in a vacuum and a sizeable chunk of Pakistan’s Test squad must have savoured those results and the positivity that emanated from it.
Almost every major aspect of cricket in Pakistan is looking up and Sarfraz looks firmly in control of the journey that is gaining momentum.
It is true that the spectre of fixing refuses to leave the Pakistan camp with big names like Sharjeel Khan and Mohammad Irfan caught in the PSL spot-fixing saga earlier in the year. But Pakistan cricket has successfully steered away from that painful reality with success on the field.
Pakistan couldn’t possibly hope for a more favourable fixture at this point in time as they prepare for life after Misbah-Younis, and hopefully right before the full-fledged return of cricket to the country.
The conditions in the UAE won’t exactly be alien to Sri Lanka but for the ‘hosts’, anything less than a clinical performance in the two-Tests series will be seen as a disappointment.