Pakistan’s test teams have struggled over the years in SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand, Australia). Pakistan last won a series in any one of these four countries in January 2011 when they beat New Zealand in New Zealand by 1- 0 in a two match series. Pakistan have not yet, in their entire test history, won a series in Australia or South Africa. But that is not the real issue. Pakistan’s test sides of yesteryears at least displayed some skills and fight against these sides in their own backyards. We never lost as easily as we are losing today. Yes, a lot of this has to do with our side having to play test cricket on docile pitches in the UAE where the ball barely bounces above waist height, but that cannot be counted as an excuse. Being professional cricketers, our players should be able to at least give these teams a good fight.
Pakistan’s last two tours to Australia and South Africa each have resulted in our team being whitewashed. The most recent of these was the series against Australia in November last year. Pakistan were handed innings defeats in both games of the series and as much as the batting was a problem, the bowling was an even bigger problem. Not once did our bowlers bowl the Australians out and in both the innings in which the Australians batted, they piled up scores in excess of 450. Ricky Ponting went on as far as to say that this was the worst bowling attack he had seen on Australian shores. Now for a country that has a rich legacy of producing world class bowlers, this is nothing less than a slap on the face. With Pakistan due to tour England for a three match test series in July and August followed by a two match test series in New Zealand in December and January and both assignments being part of the ICC test championship, it would be worth while trying to work out a combination that could give Pakistan series wins in both these countries.
Fast bowlers are the major wicket takers in SENA with the surfaces mainly favouring them. The spinners play almost no part in the first couple of days of a test match in these four countries. Hence, fast bowlers have to do majority of the bowling in these countries. Pakistan currently have got an attack which comprises of three seamers with Yasir Shah being the sole spinner. But Yasir Shah has been a major let down in SENA. He is averaging more than 40 at an economy rate of over 3.5 runs per over. This means that yes he isn’t picking wickets but is also not giving control to his captain. He leaked runs in Australia, so much so that in the second test in Adelaide, he conceded runs at an economy rate of more than six runs per over. This meant that the captain had to revert back to the pace bowlers to give him some respite. With just three pace bowlers in the team, if the spinner doesn’t bowl bulk of the overs the pacers are worn down because they don’t get enough rest between spells. Besides, whenever a team is playing test cricket in SENA, it should have four pace bowlers and a frontline spinner in it’s eleven. It gives the captain more options to work with.
Pakistan tried the very same combination of four pacers and one spinner in their three tests in Ireland and England in the summer of 2018. Fahim Ashraf was the fourth pace bowler in the side and Shadab Khan was the only spinner. This meant that Pakistan went in with five bowlers with the batting still relatively unaffected as both Shadab and Fahim can bat. Shadab Khan in particular has a superb batting record in Ireland, South Africa and England. He averages 44.80 with the bat in these countries. He is obviously yet to play a test in Australia and New Zealand. Shadab tops this up with a bowling average of 29.60 in these two countries. Similarly, Fahim Ashraf’s stats are also impressive. He has played all of his four tests in Ireland, England and South Africa. He has a bowling average of 26 and a batting average of 23. Now that is handy considering that he bats at number eight. But Pakistan, even with these two around, opted for a four man bowling attack in Australia and as a result got hammered.
Now with Pakistan scheduled to play three tests in England and two in New Zealand later this year, the option of a five man bowling attack should be considered very strongly. Pakistan can open with Shan Masood and Abid Ali, with captain Azhar Ali, Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq and Muhammad Rizwan batting at numbers 3, 4, 5 and 6 respectively. Shadab Khan and Fahim Ashraf can bat at 7 and 8 respectively, followed by the three frontline pacers who should ideally be Muhammad Abbas, Naseem Shah and Shaheen Afridi.