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Home season didn’t go as expected, admits Babar

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KARACHI: When it started, it was billed as a bumper home season for Pakistan with Test series in the offing against Australia, England and New Zealand. When it ended with a thrilling draw against New Zealand in the second Test at the National Stadium on Friday, it meant that the hosts had failed to win any of their eight matches.

Pakistan had lost the series to both Australia and England but having earned a draw in the first Test against Tim Southee’s men, they managed to do just enough at the National Stadium in a gripping final day of the second Test with their last pair of Naseem Shah and Abrar Ahmed holding off New Zea­land’s fierce attempts to get a win.

A face-saving draw was possible largely due to Sar­fraz Ahmed’s splendid century but it has raised questions about Pakistan’s inability to win at home in the longest format of the game.

Babar Azam was in the firing line at his series-ending news conference and he adm­itted that it hadn’t gone up to expectations.

“It didn’t go as expected,” he told reporters, “and our performance wasn’t up to the mark but we’ve seen some of our players getting unfit which disturbed our combination. Ups and downs are part of life but my job as captain is to keep the players positive and we will try to learn from our mistakes.”

On batting surfaces, sui­ted to Pakistan’s strengths, they lost the three-match series to Australia 1-0 before being whitewashed 3-0 by England in a series where they had no answer to their opponents’ ‘Bazball’ appro­ach. It could’ve got worse in the first Test against New Zealand where the tourists were denied by bad light after they had made a rip-roaring start to their fourth-innings chase of 138.

Babar however pleaded for patience as it is only in the past 12 months that Test cri­cket has made a full-fledged return to the country.

“You have to show patience,” he said, adding he wasn’t “relieved” after seeing his side secure a tense draw. “We were in a position to win today. We tried our best. But that’s the beauty of Test cricket where a game can swing from one team to another.”

Pakistan pressed on the accelerator after tea on Fri­day with 140 more runs nee­d­ed and wickets in hand. But once they lost wickets, it bec­ame all about survival. Babar was asked whether Pakistan could’ve shown more attacking intent in trying to win the game. “We kept on believing but once the tail began, the idea was to stay as long as possible,” the skipper said.

Babar, though, added that a change in mentality wouldn’t happen overnight.

“You need to create a plan for that, if you want us to play attacking cricket,” he stated. “It takes time to bring upon that change and results might not go our way during that time.”

Pakistan don’t have a home Test series until next year but a recent shake-up of the Pakistan Cricket Board, with a new leadership having taken over, has seen the rumour mill swirling about Babar’s future as Pakistan’s Test captain.

When asked by a reporter about that his stint as captain was on borrowed time, he hit back immediately: “You’d know better, my job is to perform.”

Before Babar’s news conference, former captain Sarfraz — who made a sensational return to the playing XI after four years during the New Zealand series — was asked by a reporter if he was eyeing returning to his former role. Sarfraz, though, rebuffed that debate immediately. “As far as captaincy is concerned, Babar is the captain right now and we should support him,” he said.

Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2023

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