PAKISTAN TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA, 2018-19
“Certainly, the batsmen need to analyze their batting technique. There’s a reason why no subcontinent team has never won in South Africa” – Arthur © Getty
It makes perfect sense that the series concluded with a comical Pakistan run out. After all, in conditions where their batsmen needed to show resilience and display sound technique, they were fickle and inept, both in their approach and strokes. Their batting collapses, due to abysmal shot selection, remained a regular feature. So much so that even on what turned out be the last day of the series, Pakistan lost the core of its middle-order – Babar Azam, Sarfraz Ahmed and Asad Shafiq for 17 runs.
It is not like Pakistan were given a chance to win the series. However, at no stage over the three-match series, the visitors pushed the hosts really on the backfoot. The tourists often found opportunities to grasp the game, but from time to time, they squandered them. It happened in Centurion when Fakhar Zaman dropped Temba Bavuma in South Africa’s pursuit of 149. It happened when Pakistan lost their last nine wickets for 89 runs after posting 101 for the loss of just one wicket in the second innings at Newlands. It happened twice at the Wanderers – both on Day 1 and Day 3.
Pakistan’s head coach, Mickey Arthur, was optimistic about the visitors’ chances when he arrived in South Africa. But, does this performance serve as a reality check for the Pakistan camp? “It obviously is [a reality check],” he said. “I am extremely disappointed. We’ve had our moments and we did not take them. Having said that, South Africa were outstanding. Their bowling kept coming at us and one thing I know that was going to be tested was our young batting group. There are a lot of positives in that department.
“I think Babar Azam was amazing and he has taken his cricket to another level. Question marks have always been there surrounding Babar about his Test cricket. I think they will certainly disappear now. He will only go strength to strength from here now. I think Shan Masood played exceptionally well. Asad Shafiq played two innings and that was significant for us. Others chipped in from time to time. But we did not get enough runs.”
There’s something wrong in how Pakistan’s batsmen prepare. Even a mere glance through the scoresheets from the past two years would indicate the same. Pakistan are now collapsing in every Test. They have collapsed throughout their home season. Their batting was expected to falter in the unfamiliar climes of South Africa. However, botching up positions of advantage on a consistent basis do raise questions about how the batsmen are approaching the game. It also raises a few questions about the coaching staff.
“Leave the coaches alone. The amount of work that Grant Flower puts in with these batsmen, it would be harsh [to blame him],” said Arthur. “Certainly, the batsmen need to analyse their batting technique. There’s a reason why no subcontinent team has never won in South Africa. Simply because the Asian guys here stay leg side of the ball which sees them get out to short-pitched balls. They need to be at the off side of the ball. We have got to develop a game-plan around those batting techniques. To a certain extent, we scored. But, there’s a lot of work that has to be done.”
Pakistan’s next Test assignment is in September against Sri Lanka, to whom they lost 2-0 in 2017 in the UAE. It will also mark the commencement of the Test Championship for the Asian nation. It provides good seven months for Pakistan to sort their Test set-up, especially after how they stumbled in South Africa. “We have got pretty high standards as a Pakistan cricket team. And we hate losing. 3-0 down doesn’t sit well with me and I know it doesn’t sit well down with the dressing room,” said Arthur. “I can never fault the attitude and work ethic that the squad has put in. They have worked hard on their skills. Our next Test series is in September which marks the beginning of Test Championship. We have a lot of time now to see and evaluate who fits in. The aim is to build a side that can win all around the world.”
That Arthur talked about the aforementioned “high standards” in a response to a question regarding Azhar Ali made perfect sense and spoke volumes about the veteran batsman’s position in the team in the aftermath of his show in South Africa. Azhar managed only 59 runs across six innings with two ducks on this tour, which saw him falling prey to Duanne Olivier’s short ball four times. It also meant that his poor batting form, stretching from Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq’s retirements, continued.
“I reiterate Azhar Ali is a quality player. He will go through these form lapses, I guess. On wicket that bounce we need to do a little bit of technical work. There was a trend he got out four times in a similar manner and he admits it first up. He admitted yesterday that on Olivier’s line coming back at him he should have kept his gloves down rather than keeping them up. As he goes away and plays for Somerset now, he will have some time off from us. And we will reassess when we come in September.”
Pakistan now play South Africa in a five-match ODI series followed by three T20Is.