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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Pressure eases on Sarfraz Ahmed but Tim Paine still looking for answers: Pakistan-Australia Test series takeaways

Here are Paul Radley's talking points at the conclusion of the two-match series that ended in Abu Dhabi on Friday

Pakistan players were dominant against Australia in the second Test match in Abu Dhabi. AP Photo
Pakistan players were dominant against Australia in the second Test match in Abu Dhabi. AP Photo

Pakistan’s cricketers can put away their whites for a month, safe in the knowledge that order has been restored for them in Test cricket in their home away from home.

The Sri Lanka defeat in the UAE was able to fester for over a year, but at least they were able to right that wrong at the first attempt, against Australia.

For the tourists, they were afforded some cheer in the Emirates, in the form of Usman Khawaja’s masterpiece to save the Dubai Test.

But their Test tour ended in injury and insult as their hero, Khawaja, suffered a knee problem, before they tumbled to their worst ever defeat to Pakistan, in Abu Dhabi.

Pakistan opener Fakhar Zaman scored fifties in his first two innings in Abu Dhabi. AP Photo
Pakistan opener Fakhar Zaman scored fifties in his first two innings in Abu Dhabi. AP Photo

New bloom

Sarfraz Ahmed was in chipper mood in the post-series debrief. And well he might have been.

He has survived blows to the arm and head, and had been given the all-clear on both. His team had returned to winning ways, after losing their unbeaten UAE record last time out to Sri Lanka, and after the toils of the Asia Cup. And, Pakistan had discovered two more excellent new players.

There were six debutants between the two teams in this series. Bilal Asif made a splash with 6-36 in his first innings as a Test cricketer, then Fakhar Zaman made two decisive contributions to the deciding Test.

“Under my captaincy, whichever players have debuted they’ve all made an impact on the side, which means the management is supporting the new guys,” Sarfraz said.

Comical Ali

Two years ago, Azhar Ali scored a Test triple century, against West Indies in Dubai. It was quite a feat.

And yet he never got even close to as much air-time as he did when the video of his farcical run out in the second Test against Australia went viral.

“They were on 297 and when the ball went past the fielder, and I thought they’ll at least run two here so we should be 299,” Sarfraz said.

“Then when I saw the score I was like, what? It was a real shock for all of us. But it happens in life. Azhar made a mistake. Sometimes you can make a 300 and not be as famous as you are after a run out.”

Australia batsmen Aaron Finch and Travis Head were not very convincing against Pakistan in the UAE series. AP Photo
Australia batsmen Aaron Finch and Travis Head were not very convincing against Pakistan in the UAE series. AP Photo

Where next for Australia?

Away teams generally struggle in modern Test cricket, but India will be salivating at the prospect of facing this Australia side in four Tests this winter.

With Khawaja a doubt because of a knee injury, all six places are feasibly up for grabs in Australia’s top order for the first match at Adelaide in December.

The Marsh brothers had a nightmare in the UAE. Aaron Finch made promising starts, but did not take them on, Travis Head was fitful, and Marnus Labuschagne seemed more like a bowler.

“Clearly, it would be a pretty exciting time to be a batsman around [Sheffield] Shield cricket, if you are scoring hundreds at the moment, there is no doubt about that,” Australia captain Tim Paine said.

"There is opportunity for everyone.”

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Read more:

Series winners and losers: Abbas 'world-class' but Marsh's Test career in trouble?

Tim Paine: Australia have made one step forward but taken two back with series loss

Australia's Peter Siddle hopes for Dubai Test encore against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi

The Azhar Ali incident in Abu Dhabi not the only one: Five bizarre run-outs in cricket

Fakhar cautiously optimistic after Pakistan take big lead over Australia in Abu Dhabi

Paul Radley: Abu Dhabi to host the UAE against Australia in one-off Twenty20 match

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Australia captain Tim Paine is trying to usher in a new culture to the Australian cricket team. Getty Images
Australia captain Tim Paine is trying to usher in a new culture to the Australian cricket team. Getty Images

Playing nice

Paine knows Australia will be judged solely on results, but he has spoken about wanting their behaviour to be decent, too.

There was little angst between the two sides over the course of the series, with the only lengthy on-field chat being between Sarfraz and Nathan Lyon, when the Pakistan captain was batting in Abu Dhabi.

“It was nothing unusual,” Sarfraz said. “You can say they are also going through a process, and are trying to fix things after what has happened with them [after the ball-tampering controversy in March] but it wasn’t like it was an especially polite atmosphere out there.”

Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed said the only way to deal with pressure is to 'perform, perform, perform'. AFP
Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed said the only way to deal with pressure is to 'perform, perform, perform'. AFP

Pressure? What pressure?

Both sides had much riding on this Test series. Pakistan, because they had been poor in the Asia Cup, and because their record of not having lost a full Test series in the UAE had been ended the last time they had played here, against Sri Lanka 12 months ago.

And Australia because of the sandpaper farce in South Africa, that deprived them the services of three major players.

The 1-0 win for Pakistan means the pressure eased – for now – on Sarfraz, while Paine is still looking for answers.

“What advice? I don’t know, man,” Sarfraz said when asked if he had any for his opposite number.

“If you are a captain of any team, you have pressure on yourself. The only way to handle the pressure is to perform, perform, and perform.”