Lack of discipline hurting Pakistan bowlers
Saeed Ajmal went wicket-less. Junaid Khan was tidy. Bilawal Bhatti was ineffective. Mohamamd Hafeez was under-bowled and Rahat Ali was unlucky. That was the tale of Pakistan's bowlers on the second day in Dubai. They managed to take only three wickets, conceded 261 as Sri Lanka walked away with a decent lead of 153 runs and six wickets in hand. Pakistan walked away with few positives in terms of the bowling, on a pitch that is expected to get flatter and test them further.
Pakistan stumbled to 165 after losing the toss yesterday - an improvement from their 99 after opting to bat first against South Africa on the same pitch in October. The toss was the difference but bowlers toiled hard on both occasions to mend the mistakes made by the batsmen from day one.
The chatter in the press box was mainly about Rahat being 'unlucky'. He toiled for 26 overs with little success, with several edges dropping in front of the slips and a regulation take that was spilled by the wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed. Ajmal was economical but unsuccessful. Bhatti, playing in his second Test, was the quickest - clocking 147 kmph - but lacked discipline. Coach Dav Whatmore said before the Test that his bowlers had the ability to take 20 wickets to win the contest but today, the bowlers struggled to take half that number to try and restrict the Sri Lankan batsmen.
"The pitch played better than yesterday and it was very obvious when they (Sri Lanka) won the toss and bowled first," Mohammad Akram, Pakistan's bowling coach, said. "There was a bit of juice in the pitch yesterday. We knew that the pitch will get better (for batting) but still, our bowlers held them well. But yes, they needed to be more disciplined."
There was occasional seam movement but the lengths didn't work and the bowlers rarely troubled the Sri Lankan batsman. Rahat was in fact lucky when Kumar Sangakkara's bat was stuck under his boot, only to be trapped in front of the stumps. It was Rahat's only wicket. Akram said the bowlers didn't put in enough effort.
"When you are bundled out for 165, there is a bit of frustration (among bowlers), and you look to pick up wickets," Akram said. "That's the time when you really need to be disciplined. At times we bowled too many loose balls as well but the effort was there as the bowlers still ran in with their heads up.
"We lacked disciplined in the bowling. You can't offer a loose ball early in the day and let the batsman get set. The pitch is far different today to what it was on the first day so had we batted sensibly and survived, it could have been a different scenario for us.
"Our bowling attack is still the best in the world. But what we are lacking is the experience and if you add the number of matches the seamers have played it is hardly 17 or 18. Unless these bowlers play, they won't thrive."
Akram wasn't worried about Ajmal being off-color, acknowledging that the conditions had challenged him. Ajmal had picked up a six-wicket haul in the Test against South Africa.
"Ajmal is our main bowler, but there was a lot of grass on the pitch and hence not much purchase for Ajmal," Akram said. "The seamers had to do the job. We need not panic and there is no reason to be frustrated if he (Ajmal) isn't picking wickets. It happens and you can't judge him on these two matches as he has done a lot in the past."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. He tweets here