As an off-colour Pakistan crashed out of the Asia Cup following defeat to Bangladesh in their final Super Four clash, under-fire skipper Sarfraz Ahmed admitted to having ‘sleepless nights’ over his and the team’s dismal showing in the tournament.
It was a tournament Pakistan had entered as heavy favourites after their ICC Champions Trophy win over India last year coupled with excellent results in the limited-overs formats of late.
The team was after all riding high on confidence after demolishing Australia and Zimbabwe in a T20 tri-series earlier as well as blanking the latter in a five-match ODI series.
With the familiar setting of their ‘home’ venue in the UAE, it was hard to look past Sarfraz Ahmed’s men, especially after India opted to rest skipper Virat Kohli for the tournament.
What followed was a painful showing by the Men in Green who exited the competition with only two victories to show against their name in which one came against minnows Hong Kong.
Star opener Fakhar Zaman failed to come to the party after plundering runs at will in Zimbabwe while Mohammad Amir’s poor ODI form continued as the pace spearhead went wicketless in the tournament.
Crucial catches dropped on the field were another reason for Pakistan’s failure with the high standards the side has set since Mickey Arthur took over as coach dropping to an alarming level.
All in all, Pakistan have come away from a dismal tournament with plenty of questions to answer before the 2019 ICC World Cup gets underway. They have less than a year to figure out their combinations for the world event but for now, they will turn their attention to a two-Test series against Australia to be held in the UAE.
While the series presents Pakistan with a chance to erase their Asia Cup memories quickly, it will also be an opportunity for them to reclaim their ‘fortress’ UAE.
Their most recent ‘home’ Test series in the UAE ended in defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka in October last year. That was the first time Pakistan had suffered a Test series defeat in the UAE ever since the Gulf nation became their alternate home venue in 2009.
In their wake lies an Australian team still reeling from the effects of the ball-tampering episode which occurred on their tour of South Africa earlier this year.
With star batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner unavailable due to their one-year bans, the Australia batting card does not inspire much confidence, especially in keeping with the slow and spinning tracks that can be expected in the UAE.
Their formidable pace battery has been vastly diminished after injuries to Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood ruled them out of the tour.
As such, there will not be a better time for Pakistan to play Australia in the familiarity of UAE conditions. With Yasir Shah, Shadab Khan and Bilal Asif in tow, the hosts will definitely look to conduct a trial by spin against the Aussies whose best batsmen to counter that threat have been banned by their own cricket board.
Mohammad Amir’s poor showing in the Asia Cup has cost him a place in the Test squad for the series but the left-armer’s services will hardly be missed in the UAE where spinners are expected rule the roost. He does not look like a force anymore on flat tracks and overseas assignments where conditions favour his swing will be the best bet for him to regain his flailing confidence.
There is no doubt that Sarfraz and his men are hurting right now following that subpar performance in the Asia Cup. But, a victory against a depleted Aussies will help them overcome much of it while at the same time help them reclaim their proud record in the UAE.
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