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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

New Pakistan cricket captain Sarfraz Ahmed proves he will be his own man

On his first day as Test captain, the outgoing wicketkeeper showed he could not be more different from his predecessor Misbah-ul-Haq.

Pakistan celebrate the dismissal of Sri Lanka's Dimuth Karunaratne in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. Kamran Jebreili / AP Photo
Pakistan celebrate the dismissal of Sri Lanka's Dimuth Karunaratne in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. Kamran Jebreili / AP Photo

So, the first day without Misbah-ul-Haq has been and gone. And the apocalypse has yet to arrive. Hooray for that.

The first salvo of the Sarfraz Ahmed Era came and went without much incident of note at all, in fact.

As can often be the way of Test matches in the UAE, it was all about attrition and perspiration. Inspiration of the sort Sarfraz provided in delivering the Champions Trophy to his country in June will have to wait.

Sri Lanka finished Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi Test on 227-4, having rollicked along at 2.5 runs per over. Sedate stuff, of which neither side will be especially happy or sad.

Now he has swapped the glorious technicolour of the limited-overs summer for the monochrome graft of Test cricket on the bone-hard wickets of the emirates, Sarfraz will find the long-format can be slow going.

Is he up to it? Only time will tell for sure. Is he up for it? Clearly.

If there was anything to be learnt from this smallest of sample sizes as to how Sarfraz is going to go about the business of captaining Pakistan, it is that he is going to stick to what he knows.

He might try to imitate Misbah’s success rate, but other than that, first impressions suggest he is going to stick to what makes him him.

It is a statement of the bleeding obvious to say Sarfraz is prone to more outward shows of emotion than Misbah ever was. Even the floodlights at Zayed Cricket Stadium are more prone to outward shows of emotion than Misbah ever was.

When Pakistan were handed their fourth wicket on a plate, after a mix up between Dimuth Karunaratne and Dinesh Chandimal cost the former his wicket, Sarfraz broke the stumps for the run out in dramatic, showy fashion. It might be assumed Misbah would have understatedly dislodged one bail in a similar situation.

Sarfraz actually failed with his very first duty in office. He lost the toss, meaning Pakistan’s players had the unusual sensation of having to hear what the opposition captain wanted to do, rather than theirs.

Misbah had won the toss 10 times of the previous 11 in Test matches in the UAE. No wonder their form has been so formidable.

Coin-related misfortune notwithstanding, Sarfraz was on a burner at the start of Day 1. He rode it most notably when Kusal Mendis edged behind off Yasir Shah’s leg-spin in the final over before lunch.

The ball missed Sarfraz’s gloves, but bounced off his thigh and ricocheted neatly back into his grasp. It was not picture perfect, but the dismissal read c. Sarfraz b. Yasir nonetheless, and the scoreboard read 61-3.

Later, he was judicious enough with his use of the first review of the Test match – even if it did actually end fruitless.

Sarfraz opted to ask the third umpire for his view when Niroshan Dickwella survived an LBW appeal against Yasir off the second ball he faced.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained – and nothing lost, either, because the terms of the new playing conditions for international cricket, being rolled out for the first time.

Pakistan were not successful in their review. But because the DRS returned a judgment of “umpire’s call” – on both the line of the impact, as well as where the ball would have hit the stumps – they did not lose their review.

Six overs later, Sarfraz betrayed signs of the headstrong nature which he might find he has to temper.

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The same combination – bowler Yasir, batsman Dickwella, an appeal spurned by umpire Richard Kettleborough – prompted him to again ask to review a leg-side catch at the wicket off a sweep.

Sarfraz reverted directly to DRS, without consulting anyone, so sure was he it had flicked off either bat or glove. The TV replay showed it to be nowhere near either.

By the day’s end, both Pakistan reviews had been burned. Yasir coaxed Sarfraz into a second look after having an LBW off Chandimal turned down. Again, they were both wrong, as Kettleborough was correct that the ball had pitched outside leg.

Day 1, Abu Dhabi Test: At a glance

Moment of the day Dimuth Karunaratne had batted with plenty of pluck, and no little skill, in getting to within seven runs of a first-day century. Then, while he ran what he thought was a comfortable single to mid-on, his batting partner Dinesh Chandimal opted to stay at home. The opener was run out by the length of the pitch.

Stat of the day – 1 One six was hit on Day 1. The boundary was only breached 18 times in total over the course of the 90 overs. When it did arrive, the lone six was a thing of beauty, as Niroshan Dickwella effortlessly clipped Mohammed Amir over the square-leg boundary.

The verdict Three wickets down at lunch, on a featherbed wicket having won the toss, and Sri Lanka’s fragile confidence must have been waning. Then Karunaratne and Chandimal's alliance of precisely 100 gave them a foothold in the match. Dickwella’s free-spirited strokeplay meant the Sri Lankans were handily placed at 227-4 at the close.

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