Following stand-in opener Sarfraz Ahmed's unbeaten 76 in the first T20 against New Zealand, Pakistan coach Waqar Younis has said the wicketkeeper-batsman has "started to come out of his shell", and that is showing in his batting of late. Sarfraz's 76 came off 64 balls, with ten boundaries, and helped Pakistan to a seven-wicket win in a chase of 136.
"I think it's been a good seven-eight months that he has started coming out of the shell and is trying to play his own game," Waqar said. "He's a stroke-maker and he likes to play his shots and when he's free, when he's got less pressure on him, I feel that he plays a lot better than anybody else.
"Freedom has been given to him to play the way he plays. He has been coming good for Pakistan, he has been in a very good nick, so it's good to take advantage of that form he is in."
Pakistan took advantage of that form by making Sarfraz open, but that only came about because Ahmed Shehzad is not yet fully fit. Shehzad was struck on the skull during the first Test against New Zealand last month. "Ahmed has been playing well, unfortunately he got hit and he had to return home, and in the past few days since his arrival here, he has not been well," Waqar said. "So he hadn't played much cricket, that is why we decided to go in for a makeshift opener.
"Ahmed is one of our finest openers, it is not that he will be ignored, probably in the one-dayers, by when he is hopefully completely fit, he will be back in his spot."
Waqar said it would serve Pakistan cricket well if Sarfraz could keep contributing with the bat, a role Kamran Akmal promised to play before "fading away". "It's something we always had an issue with, since Kamran Akmal sort of faded away. So I think it's good, someone who can keep wicket well and bat well too."
The experienced fast-bowling pair of Wahab Riaz and Umar Gul was brought into the squad for the T20s after being sidelined due to injuries - Gul last played an international game in April, and Wahab in October - but neither got to play the first T20. Waqar said given Pakistan's many options at the moment, they will have to wait their turn. "They are definitely fit, they are here to play but as I said we are spoiled in choice when it comes to fast bowling or medium-pacers. So it is hard to get into the team right now, but it's good to have a strong bench."
Like Waqar, New Zealand wicketkeeper Luke Ronchi - who ensured New Zealand had something to bowl at with a cameo of 33 - had good things to say about Sarfraz. "The turning point was probably Sarfraz's innings, he batted really well through the entirety to end up 70 whatever not out," Ronchi said. "That's the difference I think - we didn't have anyone get to 50, while he sort of anchored their innings and batted the way through."