Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed backed experienced leg-spinner Yasir Shah to put a depleted Australian team under pressure when the two sides clash in the first of two Tests starting in Dubai from Sunday.
The Baggy Greens lost 2-0 to Pakistan in UAE in 2014, with Yasir taking 12 scalps and left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar 14. However this time Yasir is the main spinner in the team. He will most likely by supported by off-spinning all-rounder Bilal Asif, who is set to make his debut, and veteran Mohammad Hafeez who is returning to the team after a gap of two years having also cleared his action.
Australia will have to manage without regular skipper Steve Smith and opener David Warner, along with Cameron Bancroft, who are still banned for their part in the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa in March.
Sarfraz said he won’t give Australia any breathing space in their first Test since the ball-tampering saga.
“When we played Australia in 2014 we played some attacking cricket,” Sarfraz was quoted as saying by AFP.
“Yasir is our main bowler so we will want him to attack and get us wickets to win the series. But similarly we will not put extra pressure on him and will not want him to go in a defensive mode so other bowlers will have to support him.”
The other leg-spinner in the squad – Shadab Khan – is likely to miss the first Test as he has not fully recovered from a groin injury. Recalled Hafeez will therefore be the third spinner.
Sarfraz added Pakistan’s batsmen will face a major challenge against Australia off-spinner Nathan Lyon who took 8-103 in the warm-up match in Dubai this week.
“We attacked him four years ago and at that time we had great batsmen in Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq,” Sarfraz said about Lyon, who managed just three wickets in two Tests in 2014.
“Four years on he is a better bowler so he will be their main bowler and a challenge for us,” he added. Lyon took 41 wickets in six matches in India and Bangladesh last year.
Australian captain Tim Paine had earlier admitted Yasir will be a big threat.
“Yasir is clearly a world-class bowler who’s got a phenomenal record at this ground in Dubai. We’re going to have to take everything we’ve been working on,” said Paine.
“We’ve faced a hell of a lot spin, there’s no doubt about that and Australian touring sides always do.”
Pakistan cricket has hit rock bottom. If not, it is very close to it. A shambolic Asia Cup performance in the UAE drew extensive criticism from Pakistani fans in the country and across the globe, with the dismal efforts of opening batsman Fakhar Zaman, seamer Mohammad Amir and captain Sarfraz Ahmed targeted.
Not only did Pakistan fail to make it to the final, losing comfortably to Bangladesh in their must-win Super Four Clash, they also endured eight and nine-wicket defeats to India in the tournament. It was a shocking effort in a country that basically has been their second home for a decade.
Pakistan made some startling selection decisions, picking six fast bowling options and not having enough spinners when teams like India fielded as many as four. Pressure has therefore mounted on Sarfraz to stop the slide and get some confidence back into the team leading up to the World Cup.
Their next assignment is in red-ball cricket – against Australia in a two-Test series with the first match in Dubai on Sunday. It offers Pakistan an opportunity to again test themselves against quality opposition and see how good or bad they really are.
The Asia Cup debacle started with poor selection choices and the management seems to have rectified it to some extent by adding veteran batsman Mohammad Hafeez to the original squad following the horror run of Fakhar in the Asia Cup.
Pakistan need some solidity in the batting line-up at the top and in the middle and Hafeez, along with experienced opener Azhar Ali, provide some much-needed assurance.
Hafeez hasn’t played Test cricket for two years but is fighting fit. He is fresh off of a double century in Pakistan’s first-class Qaid-e-Azam tournament. Plus, he is bowling again after getting his action cleared recently. The presence of four possible left-handers in the Australian top-order makes his selection a no brainer. Plus, he will give Sarfraz cushion in the lower order.
Ali at the top brings sanity to the proceedings. The opener scored a fifty in Pakistan’s Lord’s Test win in May. His confidence should rub off on others like Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam, helping them negotiate a threatening Australian attack that includes Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon.
Ali and Hafeez hit fifties in the Champions Trophy final against India last year. But for some reason they have both been shown the door in limited-overs cricket with the management moving on to younger players. But Pakistan’s Asia Cup results have shown that you need experienced players in the team. At least in the Test series, they can expect these two to help overcome difficult periods and come out victorious.
Sui Southern Gas Corporation (SSGC) coach Atiq-uz-Zaman has said that his coaching staff will look to help pacer Mohammad Amir rediscover his swing.
The 26-year-old went wicketless in the three matches he played for Pakistan in the Asia Cup in what was a continuation of his lacklustre form in ODI cricket.
The left-armed pacer claimed just three wickets in the format in 2018 despite playing 10 matches with his bowling average extending beyond 100.
Amir’s return to domestic cricket was confirmed by the SSGC coach on Sunday.
“Amir has lost his swing and we are looking to work on it. We have Kabir Khan, one of the finest of his time, as a bowling coach with us,” Atiq told Cricbuzz.
“We will sit with Amir and work on his wrist position, his use of the crease, and other technical aspects of the game. We are in a process of devising a complete plan for him and have had discussions about what needs to be done,” he continued.
Atiq also revealed that it was Amir who pitched the idea of returning to domestic cricket to regain his confidence.
“When a bowler is not picking up a wicket, his stress starts building up and it gets to a point where he starts to doubt his ability. His confidence has been shaken. Playing first-class cricket, Amir will not have that sort of pressure on him to win us matches,” he stated.
“We will tell him to enjoy his cricket, allowing him the room to express himself. Amir is keen to return to domestic cricket. In fact, he was the one who reached out to us to express his desire to return to SSGC for the ongoing season,” the coach added.
Amir will turn out for SSGC in the ongoing Quaid-e-Azam first-class Trophy and the Quaid-e-Azam One-Day Cup.