It is the kind of dismissal that can change the nature of a captaincy. Sarfraz Ahmed and Asad Shafiq were building on their stellar work on the fourth evening and had already scored 27 runs in six overs at the start of the fifth day.
As he has done thousands of times before, Sarfraz went down to sweep the fifth ball of Dilruwan Perera’s over. He got nice and low, but the ball didn’t – it bounced a little more, caught his top edge and landed in Nuwan Pradeep’s hands at deep square leg.
Pakistan needed 92 at that stage and this was the last specialist batting pair. They had already put on 173 and were in the process of turning the game around. More significantly, the new ball was due in eight balls and the situation demanded Sarfraz and Shafiq to be there to face it. Instead he was gone, and with it, Pakistan’s hopes of a series-levelling win: they lost their last four wickets for just 23 runs, and with it went Pakistan’s unbeaten, decade-long home streak.
Did he regret the shot?
“No, not regret,” he said. “That is my shot and I play it a lot. In this innings I really checked myself, I didn’t play too many shots but I guess, there is regret that I got out to it and the team was hurt because of that.”
It is correct that the sweep is his go-to shot against spin and he is very good with it. But, the situation as it was, this being his second Test as captain, and having been dismissed in the Abu Dhabi chase also attacking, it will, he admitted, make him rethink its deployment. A loose hook shot in his first Test as captain, after all, changed the nature of Imran Khan’s batting.
“It is the shot that I play, I’ve played it lots before and made runs from it,” he said. “But I’ll try and not play it at crucial moments again.”
That mistake merely compounded a whole series of collective ones Pakistan made through the two Tests. It constitutes the first real bump in Sarfraz’s leadership, which hitherto has gone smoother than expected. He’s won nine and lost two T20s that he’s led in, and can already boast of a global ICC trophy.
“I got to learn a lot from this. We made many mistakes. This was my first series as captain and it was pretty tough. Captaincy is very different in Tests – it changes session by session.”
His assessment of the defeat wasn’t much different from Mickey Arthur’s the previous evening. It wasn’t the bowling, though Sarfraz did concede they could’ve gone with two spinners here. The biggest problems were of the batsmen, failing in a chase of 136, and then failing to make 300 in each innings in Dubai. But it wasn’t just the order that was the problem.
Shafiq’s final day hundred was the only century for Pakistan in four innings, with seven fifties [Sri Lanka had two but both were big ones].
“We lacked in our batting, we didn’t play any long innings and didn’t capitalise on good starts,” Sarfraz said.
“The kind of innings Asad played, if we had gotten that in the last game, or in the first innings here, then we could’ve gotten out of it. I’ve learnt a fair bit and I hope that whatever the next series is, we’ll try and improve on these.”
Part of that could be attributed to a lack of game time. In contrast to Sri Lanka who came into this series battle-hardened with a full series against India behind them, Pakistan had not played a Test since May. Since the Champions Trophy win in June, they had only played three Twenty20s against a World XI, which, tough as they may have been, carried the air of exhibition games.
Their only real preparation, for a series that began in the UAE as early as the last week of September for the first time, was a five-day training camp in Lahore. There had been some talk of an earlier arrival in the UAE for better preparation before the team left, but Sarfraz was happy they had done their work.
“If I say we didn’t do our full preparation, or we weren’t acclimatised to conditions, it would be wrong. We did our preparation in the time we had. We played a practice game in Lahore.
“I think we just didn’t play this series well and to say we didn’t get the time to prepare is wrong – we did our preparations right. We just didn’t avail the opportunities we had. In the first Test we got so close and could have won it but couldn’t.”
Source: ESPN Crickinfo