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Batsmen need to take greater responsibility – Sarfraz Ahmed

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Pakistan’s batsmen need to step up and take greater responsibility. That was the short, sharp message their captain Sarfraz Ahmed had for them ahead of the first of two Tests against Australia in the UAE.

It may as well be taken as a timeless message, appropriate for almost any era of Pakistan history, but it could hold greater resonance in this time, when they’re still scrambling to fill some mighty gaps.

Their have been a couple of good days post-MisYou; the very first time they batted, in Abu Dhabi last year; and as fine an away batting performance in difficult conditions as they have managed in years at Lord’s. In and around those, however, have been some scary days; the final day in Abu Dhabi; all of Leeds ; even Malahide had its peek-through-fingers moments.

And though it may seem that inexperienced, spin-naïve Australian batsmen vs Pakistani spin is the defining narrative of this series, it could well turn on how a vastly-improved Nathan Lyon goes against a batting order without two of his greatest tormentors from four years ago.

Younis and Misbah swept Lyon to irrelevance then, his three wickets costing 140.66, his 110 overs ceding nearly four an over. But in India and Bangladesh, Lyon has expanded his range and Pakistan, never as good against spin as the stereotype had it, a little less good now.

“We played against Nathan Lyon in 2014, and at the moment we see he is a different bowler,” Sarfraz acknowledged. “He has lots of wickets in Asia. So we have a plan in the batting and hopefully we will execute well against him in the match.”

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None of the other broader batting issues are unfamiliar though. There’s still no settled opening pair at hand – Mohammad Hafeez being back, as a kind of horses-for-courses opener, should tell you that much. Azhar Ali has dropped off ever so slightly from his 2016 self. Asad Shafiq has not stepped up decisively.

“Batsmen need to take responsibility,” Sarfraz said. “In the past, our 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. Our batsmen have really worked hard in the practice sessions. When we get the opportunity, hopefully we will be able to score big.”

He should consider himself within the ambit of that edict. It’s been some time since he played the kind of game-breaking innings that set him up for leadership. It’s been some time since he scored any kind of runs, just three fifties in his last 14 innings, and one in nine innings as Test captain.

Given that runs are the true currency for a Pakistani captain (Misbah-ul-Haq, by contrast, had seven fifties in his first nine innings as Test captain), it has been a difficult year for Sarfraz.

“That was my first Test series last year. I have learned a lot in this one year obviously. We did make some mistakes last year because of which we suffered. But now we have learned from them and my aim is to take the team forward. Our first target is to perform well in these two Test matches and win the series.”

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