THE Pakistan-Sri Lanka series finally ended with a lot to ponder for the tourists who returned empty-handed after failing to register their supremacy in any of the three formats.
The Mahela Jayawardene-led Lankans, on the other hand, retained the momentum and confidence after claiming the one-day rubber 3-1 and, despite negotiating some testing moments on the tantalising last day of the final Test at Pallekele, came out as 1-0 winners in the Test series.
The Test and ODI series scorelines clearly suggest that Pakistan definitely fared better in the traditional version of the game — particularly after receiving the 209-run drubbing in the first Test — to make good comeback in the last two Tests amid numerous weather interruptions.
Here, an objective analysis of the entire tour brings to light some hard realities for Pakistan who under Misbah-ul-Haq and Dav Whatmore need to work on some grey areas including, of course, fielding in order to achieve consistency in the team’s performance.
Firstly, a few costly selection errors let Pakistan down. Leaving out a world-class bowler like Saeed Ajmal from the all-important final ODI when the tourists were 1-2 down in the series, or dropping Mohammad Sami after he had given a match-winning show (6-2-19-3) in the opening ODI to accommodate rookie Rahat Ali indicated a huge misjudgment by the team management.
Preferring an ineffective Sami over in-form Abdur Rehman for the crucial third Test after the off-spinner had kept several Sri Lankan batsmen on tenterhooks with his nagging line and length on a placid turf in the second match was also a folly that reflected poorly on the tour selectors.
Also, the in-and-out policy being adopted in case of the ever-developing Asad Shafiq should also now end once and for all. His absolutely illogical axing in the second ODI proved way too costly for Pakistan.
Secondly, the Misbah-Whatmore combination which was duly required to field the best eleven in each game could not, perhaps, synchronise fully to make an impact on the series.
The experienced coach, who has a great reputation for taking tough stance on key issues, is expected to play his due role with marked prudence. Given Whatmore is new to Pakistan’s cricket set-up, it becomes essential that he is fully aware of the abilities different players have for various playing conditions so that the Australian may exercise his authority precisely and appropriately at the right time.
With due regard to Whatmore, it seems that he has to cover a considerable ground before he ensures that selection irregularities of the kind experienced in Sri Lanka are overcome by better judgement.
Finally, Younis and Umar Gul, the two frontline campaigners, remained completely off-colour throughout the Sri Lanka tour and it should definitely be a serious concern for Whatmore. One can recollect that Younis has gone without significant scores for a while now.
Conversely, failing to spot Pakistan’s positives in Sri Lanka will be unfair. Delivering a fairly compact performance after the ODI series loss as well as the first Test thrashing, the visitors do deserve recognition for making a fine comeback. The manner in which Mohammad Hafeez, Asad Shafiq, Azhar Ali and Junaid Khan rose to the occasion gives us the much-needed assurance that our cricket, despite its weak moments and niggles, does have the talent and the capacity to meet the tough challenges of Test cricket.
Asad merits exclusive mention here. The diminutive player’s high-class batsmanship has only lifted his profile. His endurance backed by ever-improving technique at crucial junctures in the Test series makes him a real asset for Pakistan cricket in the years to come.
While our batting often looked fragile as the likes of Misbah and Younis wilted under pressure, it was Asad who along with Azhar — with two centuries in the Test series — steered the team to safer shores in the Test rubber.
To say that young Junaid also overshadowed the much experienced Umar would be an understatement. The greenhorn left-armer’s 14 wickets (at the average of 21.78) including two five-wicket hauls on pretty docile wickets are more than enough to keep him in the reckoning.
Prior to the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, the limited-overs series against Australia in the UAE is Pakistan’s next assignment. Needless to say, facing fearless Aussie cricketers in any contest always demands extra professionalism and precision from their opponents. Our selectors, team management and the players must keep this in mind.