This piece is being written before the third Test kicked off at Edgbaston on Wednesday. And with the match entering its third day today, a lot could have gone according to the script – or completely against it – in the previous two days of cricket. Either way, what would continue to be pertinent throughout this series is the performance of the big guns for Pakistan, some of whom have barely stepped up to the plate thus far.
As discussed over the past couple of weeks, there have been very few success stories for Pakistan in the first half of the four-match series. While it was Yasir Shah’s 10-for at Lord’s that virtually singlehandedly gave visitors an enthralling win, the only heroics at Old Trafford came from the hosts, with Alistair Cook and Joe Root toying with Pakistan’s high-profile bowling attack. The batting at Old Trafford was an absolute shambles, pretty much continuing from Lord’s, where only Misbah-ul-Haq along the lower middle and lower order had anything meaningful to contribute with the bat.
Misbah-ul-Haq, Asad Shafiq and Yasir Shah have been Pakistan’s only performers in the series so far. And that needs to drastically change
No Pakistani batsman in the top four managed to score a fifty in the first four innings of this series. This has led to question marks over the Pakistani top-order going into the Edgbaston Test. While Shan Masood was likely to have been dropped, he along with Iftikhar Ahmed and Mohammed Rizwan got among the runs in the warm-up match against Worcestershire.
Azhar Ali also scored a much needed 81 in the 2-day tour game. However, in the play that matters, Azhar has been the biggest disappointment for Pakistan along with Younis Khan. It is safe to say that if Azhar and Younis fail twice each in Birmingham this week, Pakistan could be 2-1 down at the end of the Test match.
Despite being billed as the world’s leading fast-bowling attack, Pakistani pacers have been fairly disappointing in the first two matches. While the series was touted as Mohammed Amir’s redemption series – and he might have partially achieved that at Lord’s – unless he performs better than he has been, it might be a bit of an anticlimax once the series is over.
The worrying sign for Pakistan is that none of the backup pacers looked any better in the Worcestershire game. Both Imran Khan and Sohail Khan didn’t pose much of a threat, it was much of the same from Rahat Ali and Wahab Riaz as well against a batting lineup significantly lower in profile than the one they are currently facing in Birmingham. Wahab, in fact, would have been lucky to be a part of the ongoing match.
While Amir hasn’t been able to lead the pace attack quite so effectively as an established bowler as he did when he was a foil to Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul six years ago, that needs to quickly change, lest Pakistan continue depending on Yasir Shah for mini miracles against England.
The Edgbaston pitch traditionally supports the seamers and just like the batting top-order, it’s safe to say that if Pakistan’s new ball bowlers aren’t among the wickets, they might not be able to take the 20 wickets needed to win the Test match.
Pakistan needs to bank on its strengths to get the desired result. This means all-out attack as a bowling unit and a new plan of action against Cook and Root. After all, there’s a fair chance that the already struggling top-order is going to be at sixes and sevens against James Anderson and co.
While Amir and Rahat Ali might hold the key with the ball, Azhar, Younis and Sarfraz Ahmed might hold the same with the bat. Azhar and Younis would need to provide the buffer if the English opening bowlers make inroads, while Sarfraz would need to be the counterattacking punch that makes him such an important batsman down the order for Pakistan overseas.
Misbah, Asad Shafiq and Yasir have been Pakistan’s only performers in the series so far. And that needs to drastically change if Pakistan are to bounce back from the drubbing at Old Trafford.