When Pakistan take field against Sri Lanka at Abu Dhabi on Thursday, it wouldnt be a juts another test match for green shirts. It marks a beginning of a new journey preceded by an era. The era which saw two of Pakistans successful test batsmen who were linchpin in taking their side to number one ranking in crickets oldest and longest format. Misbah ul Haq-Pakistans most successful test skipper- Younis Khan-Pakistans most successful test batsman- called it quits after an away test series against West Indies and the duo leave the side with a legacy. Culture of giving more than 100% on the field, culture of achieving bigger heights though sheer hard work and ethics and embracing team spirit at all junctures is what Misbah and Younis Khan can be proud of.
The era is gone, though. And, a relatively new one begins. Pakistan are in a state of transition and Sri Lanka tests will be their first test. New skipper Sarfaraz Ahmad has shown qualities of a leader in limited overs format and will have a job on hands to make sure Pakistan are a force to reckon with in test cricket post Misbah-Younis era.
The pleasing aspect for Sarfaraz and team management is the fact that there are some seriously talented players who form a nucleus of the team. A title win in Champions Trophy has yet again exhibited that there is no dearth of match winners but frailties remain. A reliable and consistent opening pair is still a distant possibility. Sami Aslam and Shan Masood are relatively young and with Misbah and Younis vacating middle order one would expect Azhar Ali go back to his preferred number three spot. Talented Babar Azam and comeback man Harris Sohail will have take responsibility to shore up the batting. Asad Shafiqs role as senior batsman becomes ever so vital as he has an ability to bring his A game into play when chips are down. Sarfaraz as well know is a fighter and it will be interesting to see if captaincy affects his natural style of play which is take the game to the opposition.
Bowling has always been reliable and this Pakistan side still boasts a couple of world class bowlers who can run through any opposition. Left arm pacer Mohammad Amir knows his art well and leggie Yasir Shah can be unplayable at times on slow bowling friendly wickets of UAE. Wahab Riaz has pace, Mohammad Abbas has accuracy and slow left armer Mohammad Asghar is an emerging talent expected to take wickets.
For Sarfaraz, test captaincy will bring new challenges after settling down so well in limited overs format. It is one thing skippering a side in limited overs cricket and altogether a different ball game when it comes to test cricket. It test your patience and stitching together a healthy dressing room environment will test Sarfarazs leadership qualities. His predecessor Misbah did that successfully taking into consideration he took over after Pakistan cricket was hit hard by infamous 2010 spot fixing scandal.
The possible return of former skipper Salman Butt after a lengthy ban courtesy his involvement in spot-fixing might boost Pakistans batting credentials but his presence in dressing room could well have a negative effect on players psyche. Sarfaraz will be tested on that front as well.
As of now, focus is on Sri Lanka tests. Pakistan has a feel good factor considering Sri Lanka are a side in transition and in search of winning formula. To begin a new era, Pakistan wouldnt have asked for a better opposition to settle down as a test side with new faces eager to make their mark at the big stage. And, playing at their home should work in their favour as well. Challenges are there, though, but can Sarfaraz write a new chapter in Pakistans test history remains to be same.
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