KARACHI: As Pakistan departed to the country that last defeated them in Tests, coach Waqar Younis’ admission that the side is a much-improved unit in the longest format as compared to the other two, is still fresh in memory.
While Pakistan’s performance in the all-whites is admittedly much better than in the other formats, several question marks still hang over the team. Here we look at three questions for the three Tests that await Pakistan.
Only one new comer in 15-man squad?
Pakistan’s Test squad was announced on June 3 with familiar names being the norm as the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) continues to place its trust on the tried and tested.
For so long, Pakistan’s greatest weapon Saeed Ajmal was not selected due to his dismal performance with a revised action. In his stead the duo of Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah were given a go ahead and both have been ever-present in the longest format since Pakistan beat Australia in the UAE last year.
Ahmed Shehzad made a comeback after he was dropped for the Bangladesh series post-World Cup due to disciplinary issues. Meanwhile, Ehsan Adil also returns after suffering an injury before the series against Bangladesh.
But question marks hang over the selection of Fawad Alam. Why was he sent to lead the A team in Sri Lanka if he was not going to be selected for this tour? Is he doomed to serve only in the A team for his entire career, despite proving himself time and again?
Chief selector Haroon Rasheed said that the squad was selected keeping in mind the conditions, potential of players, form and fitness and the performance in the recently concluded Bangladesh series and A team tours to Sri Lanka.
In the first two unofficial ODIs, Fawad made 58, 65 and 76 not out. He then followed it up with scores of 72, 64 and 12 in the three unofficial four-day matches to score five half-centuries in the six times that he batted.
Shan Masood, the only new face in the Test side, made an impressive 182 in the third and final unofficial four-day match and was selected on the basis of that performance. Masood’s inclusion further raises eyebrows since he was selected for his showing against Sri Lanka A but Alam was not for a similarly impressive series.
Do Pakistan have a Plan B?
For some time now, losing the toss to Pakistan has spelt the death knell for opposition teams, starting from the humbling of Australia last year in the UAE, followed by New Zealand.
In the recently concluded Bangladesh series after a whitewash in ODIs and one-off T20, Pakistan put their batting-first-and-winning plan to good use to claim their only win of the tour.
But what if they are not given a chance by the Islanders to bat first? And New Zealand did exploit Pakistan’s weaknesses when they beat Pakistan in the third Test even after the men in green batted first.
Pakistan ought to have plan B and C at their disposal if they are to have any chances of a series win.
Is this the end of the line for Younis and Misbah?
The glorious careers of Misbahul Haq and Younus Khan are drawing to a close and long-term replacements for the long-serving duo need to be chalked up.
The duo are the most important part of Pakistan’s middle-order which has been a formidable force for the team in the longest format. They have piled up runs at will to grind out opposition after opposition but if Misbah’s decision to play Tests only till the end of 2015 materialises, the PCB needs to act quickly to find a suitable replacement.
Moreover, Younus’ heydays are also coming to an end even if the 37-year-old shows no sign of slowing down. The advancing age of the two right-handers makes Alam’s exclusion even more mindboggling.
The last Sri Lanka-Pakistan series in August 2014 resulted in a 2-0 defeat in Tests and a 2-1 loss in the ODIs. With Pakistan’s Champions Trophy qualification on the line, a victory in the Tests will surely serve as a morale boost going into the ODIs.