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With their senior-most batsmen out of form, the premier spinner lacking bowling rhythm and no chance to warm-up, Pakistan have several challenges to overcome as the first Test begins in Galle
June 21, 2012
Mohammad Hafeez cut a serious figure as he walked in for the pre-Test series press conference at the team hotel in Galle. True to his nature, his answers were direct, polite and non-confrontational, even when grilled about his own batting form. He wasn't supposed to be holding the series trophy with Mahela Jayawardene in the first place, when the captains posed for pictures. Misbah-ul-Haq's unexpected absence, serving a one-match ban for a slow over-rate offence, meant that Hafeez had to take over. Hafeez had a taste of the captaincy during the Twenty20s, but a Test, especially away from home, will be an entirely different challenge.
Hafeez's readiness for the role is irrelevant, for he was identified as the ideal candidate to take over in such emergencies. Pakistan's immediate concern is rectifying the glitches in their batting, which contributed to at least two of their three defeats in the one-dayers. It was a point highlighted by Misbah time and again. The openers had failed to provide solid platforms. Younis Khan's edginess compelled the management to drop him for the fifth ODI. Hafeez himself is in need of runs …
Batting aside, Saeed Ajmal hasn't had the best of tours either. It could be partly due to the fact that Sri Lanka played him better. With problem areas in the two main departments, plus the lacklustre fielding, Pakistan find themselves with more headaches than expected before the Test series, now further inconvenienced by Misbah's ban. The lack of contributions from the seniors will end up putting enormous pressure on the younger players like Azhar Ali, who ended up taking more responsibility than he would have anticipated in the one-dayers.
There's also the question of the readiness of Test specialists like Taufeeq Umar, who hasn't played an international match since February. Players themselves will testify that no amount of training and net practice can substitute for actual match practice. This predicament could expose a scheduling anomaly. The tour schedule does not include any warm-up games for either format. While it isn't always a practice to have one for limited-overs games - especially with two subcontinent teams playing each other in familiar conditions - not scheduling one before a Test series could be a potential banana peel for a visiting team.
When asked if this had hampered their preparations, Hafeez was confident it wouldn't be a factor. "Switching from one format to another requires practice, but we are not complaining about it. We have to go through with it," Hafeez said. "Some of the players coming in to the Test squad played some practice games in Pakistan. As a player you have to adjust yourself quickly and we have players experienced enough to do that."
To illustrate the importance of practice games, Pakistan needn't look beyond their neighbours India. In South Africa in 2010, it was as if they stepped out of the plane and hopped straight to the ground in Centurion, where they were hammered by an innings, before getting their bearings and bouncing back in Durban. Given the circumstances Pakistan find themselves in, a three-day game to fine-tune skills and iron out glitches wouldn't have been out of place. Younis could have spent some time in the middle to get his confidence back, Ajmal could have used the opportunity to bowl a lengthy spell and get his rhythm back.
Nevertheless, Hafeez backed Younis to come good due to his experience. He also acknowledged that Misbah's seniority will be missed. "Younis has been the backbone of the team for the last ten years. I don't think there is any undue pressure on him, but we need to come harder [at the opposition] this time," Hafeez said. "Obviously we will miss Misbah in this team because of his calm and stable personality, but we have to move forward."
Pakistan's chances of competing in Galle will depend on how they tackle these challenges thrown at them.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Kanishkaa Balachandran
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