Wed, 19 Dec 2018
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Abu Dhabi

Struggling Sarfraz laments "soft, cheap dismissals"

ESPNCricInfo
20 Nov 2018, 01:42 GMT+10

10:06 AM ET

Despite all the decades of groundwork Pakistan have laid building a reputation of unpredictability, nothing could have prepared their fans for this. The post-lunch capitulation on Monday in a target of 176 - what is it with that number and Pakistan? - was so improbable, it caught even the ever-pessimistic Pakistan public by surprise. This is a fan base that has turned the name of its team into both an adjective and a verb, that, when things go uniquely wrong, resignedly explain it away as "a Pakistan kind of performance". However, it was difficult to accept even Pakistan could lose a match from the position they were in, and it played out like bad satire. From 147 for four, with 29 runs to win, Pakistan were bowled out for 171, handing the team their narrowest, and perhaps most painful, Test defeat.

Sarfraz Ahmed, sounding as disconsolate as a man in his position should be, bemoaned the "soft wickets" his side had given New Zealand. "Things were completely in our control and we wasted the opportunity," he said after the match. "Nobody played a long innings. All the dismissals were soft dismissals. We will have to look at all this as set batsmen got out cheaply and you saw that happening in first innings as well. After getting starts, we did not carry on and we will have to look at this."

In classic Test matches like this one, which will be talked about in years, if not decades to come, there's always an element of sympathy for the side on the wrong side of the result. Think of a devastated Brett Lee being consoled by Andrew Flintoff at Edgbaston in 2005, the shattered look on David Warner's face in Hobart in 2011 when he carried his bat while New Zealand came away with a seven-run win. Anyone sympathising with this Pakistan team, however, clearly couldn't have watched the match.

"Soft", as Sarfraz called it, was an understatement. The way several batsmen, particularly in the manic last hour, gave away their wickets - that phrase is exact - would see Sunday league players fear for their places in their respective sides, or at least serious questions raised about their aptitude. There was Hasan Ali at the end, of course, trying to hit a six when he was better off giving Azhar Ali company - ditto Bilal Asif.

Sarfraz himself found a particularly disagreeable way to get out, sweeping at a ball that wasn't full enough for the shot, gloving it in the air. It was the second time he fell to Ajaz Patel in that manner this match. The sweep may be his favourite shot, but increasingly under pressure, the Pakistan captain seems to bring it out to avoid playing sharp spin with a straight bat. "I'm very disappointed that I couldn't preform with the bat. I'm disappointed with the shot I played and got out," Sarfraz admitted.

And then there was Babar Azam's run out, according to Sarfraz the wicket that started it all. "We didn't handle the pressure well is what I would say. When we had 40 [29 runs left to win] runs, that run out for Babar was the turning point. Our collapse started from there. I would say we didn't handle the pressure well.

"It is very upsetting to say the least. The way we started off yesterday, we felt we would get through to the target easily. But then we lost three wickets before Asad Shafiq and Azhar struck up a good partnership. The pitch's behaviour on all four days has been the same. It was important for set players to play on it and capitalise on their starts. We have seen throughout this match that as soon as wickets fall, the teams collapsed, be it us or them.

"As far as the chase goes, we should have achieved that target and it a huge disappointment for the team."

The pressure on Sarfraz was supposed to ease after this match, with Pakistan looking to convince fans the series against Sri Lanka last year had simply been an aberration. However, with Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan's void nowhere close to being filled, and Sarfraz miles from the batsman he was when not laden with the responsibility of captaincy, it is unclear where Pakistan go from here.

For most of the past decade, Sydney 2010 has been the byword for Pakistan at their worst, but it is Abu Dhabi 2018 that takes centre-stage on that list now. Sydney put paid to Kamran Akmal's future as a Test match wicketkeeper for Pakistan, with none other than Sarfraz making his debut in the following Test. With his place in the Test side, as captain, wicketkeeper and batsman, never more publicly under the microscope than it has been of late, Sarfraz of all people will know how much work he has to do if he is to avoid suffering an eerily circular fate over the coming weeks and months.

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