After more than 150 overs and two days in extreme heat and humidity, Pakistan do not regret going into the first Test against Sri Lanka with just the solitary specialist spinner. Choosing three fast bowlers and just Yasir Shah was a significant break from the policy under Misbah-ul-Haq who played, as much as possible, two specialist spinners in UAE Tests.
Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Abbas and Hasan Ali took five wickets between them – Amir was wicketless – as Pakistan struggled to bowl Sri Lanka out for 419. In itself that was a recovery as Sri Lanka were 387 for 5 at one stage, but the burden fell, inevitably, on Yasir. The legspinner bowled a career-high 57 overs, and given that the part-timer Haris Sohail bowled 13 overs, the question is obvious: should they have picked another spinner?
Mickey Arthur was confident after the first day that they needn’t have done, though he did express disappointment at a little more grass being cut off than he thought should have been.
On Friday, their bowling coach Azhar Mahmood echoed the sentiment. “The challenge in a Test is to take 20 wickets and win it. The best thing is that we bowled well. There was a lot of talk that the pitch has grass or we should have played with three spinners but we went on our strength. We played Test matches in the West Indies with three seamers.”
Instead, as Arthur had also pointed out, what Pakistan didn’t do was bowl well enough with the new ball each time.
“The main thing is that we didn’t bowl well with the new ball, the first six overs I mean,” Azhar said. “So we need to learn how to take wickets with the new ball because if you get wickets at the top it helps Yasir to attack. But we gave 419 runs in 5 sessions which is okay.”
The only point at which Pakistan’s fast bowling looked a threat was during the late-innings collapse, when Abbas found enough reverse-swing to pick up three quick wickets. He wouldn’t have bowled in this kind of heat before, though he is probably used to the lack of life in the surface – the surfaces in the West Indies where he made his Test debut earlier this year were not that much quicker.
“The coach had tasked me with getting wickets with the new ball,” Abbas said. “I wasn’t successful in doing that. Our plan on the day, if we don’t get any wickets, was to bowl a tight line and length, and contain runs. We were, to an extent, successful in doing that. And at the end, I got an opportunity to take wickets.”