Mickey Arthur, Pakistan's head coach, on Monday (October 9) urged Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed, his two senior batsmen, to continue their solid stand on the fifth and final day of the second Test against Sri Lanka for a series-levelling win.
Chasing 317 to win, Pakistan recovered from a miserable 52 for 5 as Shafiq (86 not out) and Sarfraz (57 not out) lifted it to 198 without further damage with a fighting 146-run stand. Pakistan needs another 119 runs to win the day-night Test.
"Fantastic, it will be a really good session," said a relieved Arthur, looking ahead to the final day. "These guys double their partnership, we’ll win the game. It’s going to be all to play – I think seven overs to the new ball, so if we can cash in on those seven overs, put a little bit of pressure on Sri Lanka, it could be a good ending."
The win will also help Pakistan maintain its unbeaten series record in the UAE, having won five and drawn four of the previous nine.
Pakistan failed to chase a modest 136-run target to lose the first Test by 21 runs in Abu Dhabi. But here, the Shafiq-Sarfraz stand has come at the most opportune moment.
"I say it with a lot of relief that we eventually see the partnership. They’ve both played very, very well. We were saying at tea time it has a bit of a Gabba feel about it, when we chased and Shafiq got 137," said Arthur, of the day-night Test last December in Brisbane against Australia. Pakistan came close to chasing down a 490-run target, failing by just 39.
"It had the same feel. I’m so pleased for Asad Shafiq because he’s worked so hard and we know he’s a quality player and he showed the skills tonight. I thought he was very good. I just hope he can go all the way for us."
Arthur backed the faltering Babar Azam, who finished the series with scores of 28, 3, 8 and 0. "It’s a bit of a worry. I’ve got a lot of faith in Babar because I think he is a very, very good player. But his white-ball form though needs to start transforming into his Test form.
"He has had a very slow start to his Test career, for a player of his ability. I’m still confident that he will come through and that he will be a very good player for Pakistan going forward. We've just got to guide him through as best we can. "
Arthur candidly accepted that the reshuffled batting order in the wake of the retirements of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq had left him worried. "It’s kept me awake at night, to be honest, I’ve spoken to a few people about it. It’s tough – I thought we had it nailed, I’ve got to be honest with you. I was comfortable that we had the right combinations.
"I was comfortable that we had enough left-hand, right-hand combinations. I thought we had the next best batsmen available in Pakistan playing for us. I’ll be honest, I’m not a 100% sure now.
"And before we tour again and before we go to England, we’ve got a long break now. We’re going to have to sit down and really apply our minds and have a look again as to what we think is our best top-six going forward."
Asked whether Shafiq was more comfortable batting down the order at five or six, Arthur replied: "It’s still too early to say. I would’ve loved Asad to be playing the innings he is from No. 4 because that just solves the problem for us. With him going down to five, we just thought with Haris (Sohail) playing so well, another left-hander in the middle, we thought it was a no-brainer for us sending him at 4.
"Again, it throws up another conundrum for us because he’s playing so well at five. Is that his right position? I’m not so sure. We’re going to have to really apply our minds going forward with what our right top-six is."
On Shan Masood, who hasn’t contributed much, Arthur said the opener needed consistent chances. “In terms of rationale, one of the things always pointed out about Pakistan cricket is that there hasn’t been any continuity. We've tried to get continuity with our players, albeit the right decision or the wrong decision.
"Pakistan cricket is synonymous with dropping players, bringing them back, dropping them again, bringing them back again. We want to give guys an opportunity and then we can make a proper decision on it. Now whether that proper opportunity ends now, or we reconsider it, I can’t say. But at least the player that gets a run in the team will feel that he’s had a go and that’s what we’re trying to create.
"Has our opening partnership worked for us in this series? It probably hasn’t but that is something we’ll discuss going forward and try and get the best option. The easy option would be Azhar (Ali) going back up, that then opens another position at 3. At the moment, we’ve got a lot of soul-searching to do.”
Arthur once again backed the three seamers plus one spinner policy. "The reason behind it is we just thought it was our best possible attack to win us the game, whether that was right or wrong, it’s something I need to get my head around. I’ve come from and coached in places where pace dominates and pace wins games. I’ve got to get my thinking around that these are totally different conditions.
"Whether we like it or not, our attack has done a job. We should’ve chased down 136 in Abu Dhabi. Without a doubt. And then we would’ve said the attack has done its job."