Did Pakistan take Sri Lanka lightly? Ask a former player or television pundit, and he will tell you they did – because Dinesh Chandimal’s men had been thrashed 3-0 on their home ground just over a month and a half back. Trying out a new opening pair with one controversial selection and one staging a comeback, not playing a second spinner and not playing a side game led many to that conclusion.
The abject surrender by Pakistan let Sri Lanka conquer their hitherto unassailable territory, the UAE, which Misbah-ul-Haq had so admirably built over the last seven years. Sri Lanka’s 68-run win in the second Test which ended on Tuesday (October 10) gave them a 2-0 sweep of the Test series.
But Mickey Arthur, Pakistan’s head coach, is adamant his team did not take Sri Lanka lightly. Arthur accepted that the fact that his players had not played competitive cricket since their tour to the West Indies in May where the two pillars of batting, Younis Khan and Misbah, retired could have played a part.
“No, absolutely no truth at all,” Arthur told Wisden India, shooting down theories that Pakistan had embraced complacency. “We were a developing Test team and right from the start of the campaign, we spoke very highly of the Sri Lankans.”
The coach believed Sri Lanka were battle-hardened after their tough series against India, where they lost all nine international games on home soil.
“We knew that they were going to be battle-hardened after their series with India. We hadn’t played any competitive cricket since the Champions Trophy (June this year) and that was a totally different squad. Our Test team hadn’t played any cricket since the West Indies tour (Apil-May). We knew we had to be at our best to beat them. They showed they were more battle-hardened and disciplined than us over a period of five days.”
Arthur admitted that he had messed up the batting order, a plan Pakistan thought would work with a well-settled Azhar Ali dropping down to No. 3 after scoring a massive 1198 runs in 11 Tests as opener in the last 12 months.
“I think that’s exactly right,” accepted Arthur candidly. “It’s disappointing to have only one hundred in a series in the UAE. I thought we had the right order coming into the series and I thought we had backed the right players.
“But clearly, we have got a little bit of work to do before we go to the tour of England in May next year. We have to get out our top six right, we didn’t get it right here and it’s going to take us a series to rethink and get the right players in the right place.”
The most discussed point was not playing a second spinner, a combination that helped Pakistan win five of the nine previous series and draw the other four. Here too, the coach admitted that he might have got it wrong.
“I think that’s fair. My perception has been that pace has always been good. Maybe I need to change that a little bit. But we can’t blame the bowlers. We needed 136 to win in Abu Dhabi and the bowlers had done their job,” said Arthur of Pakistan’s 21-run loss in the first Test.
“The batters needed to get us over the line and here in (Dubai) we had the bonus of getting Sri Lanka out for 96, so the bowling was good. You can’t sit and look at the composition of the bowling. It wasn’t the bowling, it was our batting that let us down in the series.”
But the coach was relieved that there were a few positives, none more significant than the good start to Haris Sohail’s career.
“The positive is Sohail, big positive. I think Yasir Shah bowled exceptionally well under trying conditions. I think Asad Shafiq getting a hundred is a positive for us going forward because I think if he did not get that hundred, he would have been under the blowtorch as well. For him to get a hundred and come through that has put another experienced batsman in our batting line-up secure in his position.”
Arthur hoped Sarfraz Ahmed would emerge stronger from the defeat in his first Test series as captain. “He will take that in his stride. Sarfraz has been good,” said Arthur. “He has taken the responsibility — we saw with the bat, and he will grow and learn. The best captains in the world grow from adversity.
“He is emotional and that’s not a bad thing. He has to temper that a little bit. He is positive and likes to play an attacking brand of cricket and will develop in his own way. He has been very good over the two Tests matches and a loss will inspire him more.”
Arthur, who also coached South Africa and Australia, expected the Test team to develop in the next 12 months.
“Look, I feel that the Test team is back to where we were our ODI team was last year. We have revolutionised the ODI team. No excuse, but what we need to understand is that we have not played at home in terms of being in Pakistan.
“We had tough series against Australia in Australia, New Zealand in New Zealand and Windies in the Caribbean. They were very, very tough and next we have England in England. I don’t look at the stats, for me it’s about how we move the team on.
“Clearly, our Test team has come back to a position where it’s very much a fledgling side and not a stable side, not a settled side. Hopefully a year on from here, our Test team would have grown and we have the composition of the team right. We are going to South Africa (2018) looking to win because that for us is the final frontier.
“Obviously I would have loved for us to have a better record than we have got in Test cricket but Test cricket is tough. Ultimately we will improve that, but we need time.”