Pakistan will be banking on their match-winning leg-spinner Yasir Shah to win them a two-match Test series against Australia starting in Dubai from Sunday, also lifting them from the Asia Cup gloom of last month.
The 32-year-old spinner was one of the two weapons Pakistan had in their last series win over Australia in 2014, taking 12 wickets to left-armer Zulfiqar Babar’s 14. That helped Pakistan win 2-0, their first series win over Australia in 20 years.
But there will be more pressure on Yasir, who is the only experienced spinner after Babar faded out last year. He will be assisted by off-spinner Bilal Asif and recalled all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez.
Moreover, Yasir is coming from a year’s absence, having missed the UK leg of three Tests earlier this year through injury. But Sarfraz is hopeful Yasir will fire.
“Yasir got injured in the England tour, but he has played first class cricket before coming to the UAE for this series so we want him to attack and do not go in the defensive mode,” said Sarfraz ahead of the Test on Saturday.
“He played two or three first class matches and worked really hard. He has bowled really well in the practice sessions. He is our main bowler. The way he has performed for Pakistan in the past, I hope he will be able to win matches for Pakistan again.”
Sarfraz hoped Hafeez, not in the original squad of 17 but drafted after his double hundred in a Quaid Trophy match, will prove handy.
“You have seen how well he has played in domestic matches. That’s why we have picked him for the Test series. We want to take advantage of his form by playing him as an opener,” said Sarfraz of Hafeez.
“He can also the do the job of the fifth bowler as we have often missed a fifth bowler in Test matches. I hope he will carry his domestic form into this series,” Sarfraz said the Asia Cup disappointment is beyond his team.
“Asia Cup has gone as past. We are not thinking about the Asia Cup we are thinking of Test series, said Sarfraz. ” I think morale is very high. We are here in a different frame of mind. So hopefully we will do well in the Test series.”
Pakistan announced 12 for the Test, with a tie between pacemen Wahab Riaz and uncapped Mir Hamza. But Wahab’s experience and 25 wickets in seven UAE Tests, will tilt the balance in his favour.
Sarfraz warned Pakistan’s batsmen will have to take more responsibility to avoid last year’s defeat against Sri Lanka when they had the taste of their own medicine.
“Batsmen need to take responsibility. In the past, out batsmen have always scored the runs and put the team in strong positions. Now our batsmen haven’t been able to convert their starts. Hopefully, they will be able to do that in this series,” said Sarfraz, who also hoped Nathan Lyon will not come to haunt them like Rangana Herath did last year.
“Lyon is an improved bowler from four years ago,” said Sarfraz of Australian spinner. “We attacked him in 2014 and he got only three wickets, but this time he has improved a lot so we will have to guard against him.”
Lyon took eight wickets in the side game, the only practice Australia had on this tour.
Australia announced their eleven, with Aaron Finch, Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne making their Test debut.
Australian captain Tim Paine admitted Yasir will pose challenge for his team.
“We’ve faced a hell of a lot spin, there’s no doubt about that and Australian touring sides always do. We get heaps of net bowlers who do diff things. We can train as long as we like – that’s another thing we’ve touched, we can be great trainers but at the end of the day.”
“It’s about how we play in a game. we’re going to really well prepared, but it’ll be about taking it on and playing the way we are in the nets under the pressure of a test match. Yasir is clearly a world class bowler who’s got a phenomenal record at this ground in Dubai. We’re going to have to take everything we’ve been working on and pull it out when we’re under pressure.”
The second Test starts in Abu Dhabi from October 16.