ABU DHABI: Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed has dispelled the impression that his team had any fear of losing as they prepare to do battle with Australia in the second and final Test at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium from Tuesday.
Speaking on the eve of the series decider after Australia batted out the last day in Dubai last week draw the first Test, Sarfraz said the team’s morale is high and his players will be on top of their game.
“There is nothing like that [fear] and you would see that with the way we played the first Test. Throughout we played good cricket but unfortunately we couldn’t get across the line,” the Pakistan captain told reporters on Monday. “The team morale is high, the batsmen have scored runs and the bowlers have also taken wickets so we are very much hopeful of performing well to win the series.”
Sarfraz further said a couple of changes have been made to the playing XI for the Abu Dhabi Test following the unfortunate injury to Imam-ul-Haq while fielding in the first Test. Pakistan are certain to award maiden Test cap to Fakhar Zaman, the explosive opener who had a poor Asia Cup that preceded the Test series against Australia.
They have also left out fast bowler Wahab Riaz, who went wicketless in the first Test, and will pick either uncapped paceman Mir Hamza or leg-spinning all-rounder Shadab Khan, who missed the series opener with a groin problem.
Pakistan’s only series loss in United Arab Emirates — their neutral venue since attacks on the Sri Lankan team bus in 2009 forced them to play here — was last year in Sarfraz’s first Test assignment after the retirement of Misbah-ul-Haq when went down 2-0 to Sri Lanka — their first series loss in the UAE in 10 attempts.
Sarfraz said Pakistan had overwhelmingly dominated the first Test until Australia’s tenacious fightback on day five.
“Obviously, the end result was quite disappointing from Pakistan’s point of view especially when we had the upper hand for the best part of four and a half days,” Sarfraz observed. “Naturally the disappointment of not winning the first Test is something we have to rectify here in Abu Dhabi. Our players are confident of wining the series and that will be our sole aim over the next five days.”
Meanwhile, Australian skipper Tim Paine vowed his team would do its utmost to win their first series win in Asia since 2011.
The trying conditions of the pitches and hot weather have stopped Australia from winning a series since they beat Sri Lanka 1-0 in 2011.
Since then they have lost 4-0 in India (2013), 2-0 in United Arab Emirates to Pakistan (2014), 3-0 in Sri Lanka (2016), 2-1 in India (2017) and drew 1-1 in Bangladesh last year.
“We want to win every series we are involved in,” Paine said on Monday. “We are focusing on what we do and if we can do well for five days then we have a really good chance of winning it.
“We are reasonably confident. After the last few days we got a little bit of relief and a little bit of mileage, so we know if we play our best cricket we have got a chance to win this Test match.
“We are coming into this Test with a bit more momentum and guys know what to expect a bit more in these conditions,” said Paine, who announced paceman Mitchell Starc will play in Abu Dhabi.
That is hint enough that Australia are likely to keep the same starting XI.
Paine said the batting order could also be changed, though there seems little need to move around the new opening duo of Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja, who piled on the runs in a pair of strong opening stands in Dubai.
“We may consider tweaking [the batting order],” said Paine. “I know guys had their individual meetings yesterday [Sunday] and all that stuff was discussed. “Again, we’ll come tomorrow [Tuesday] and make a call on the team and batting order and stuff, probably tomorrow.”
Paine admitted Pakistan were a ‘very good team’.
“They have some good batters, particularly in these conditions. We know what we are up against and we know they are an excellent team and even better in these conditions.”
Paine said he was mindful of Michael Vaughan’s words in an Ashes documentary released last year, when the former England captain recalled watching the Australians celebrate an escape at Old Trafford in the 2005 series.
Vaughan said he never thought he would “see an Australian team celebrate a draw” and from then on felt England had the mental upper hand in a series they would go on to win.
“Michael Vaughan said after one of the Tests that he felt as an opposition captain that they had them when he saw them celebrating a draw,” Paine said.
“I’ve seen that myself before. I think we were clearly pretty excited by what we’ve been able to achieve because it doesn’t happen too much but you’ve got to keep a bit of perspective on it and realise that we had been outplayed particularly over the first few days.
“While it was great we did fight back, a draw is a draw and we’re here to win.”
PAKISTAN: Mohammad Hafeez, Fakhar Zaman, Azhar Ali, Haris Sohail, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Sarfraz Ahmed (captain), Shadab Khan, Bilal Asif, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Abbas, Mir Hamza.
AUSTRALIA: Usman Khawaja, Aaron Finch, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Tim Paine (captain), Mitchell Starc, Jon Holland, Nathan Lyon, Peter Siddle, Ashton Agar, Brendan Doggett, Michael Neser, Matthew Renshaw,
Umpires: Sundaram Ravi (India) and Richard Illingworth (England).
TV umpire: Richard Kettleborough (England).
Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka).
Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2018