ABU DHABI: For the first time since the 2010 series against South Africa in November, Pakistan cricket team took to the training session ahead of a Test series without both the legends Misbah Ul Haq and Younus Khan.
With both stalwarts of the game having hung the boots simultaneously, the void was understandably evident. But the excitement was palpable on the faces of the young brigade who are trying to blend in with the regulars in the team.
A good two and half-hour long training session and coach Mickey Arthur is off the turf pretty much happy with what he has seen so far from the boys. He has no doubt in his mind that his team, with a mix of young and the experienced will make a smooth transition and is ready to embrace a new ‘dawn’ in Tests.
“Things are shaping up well and we had a good chat with the boys this morning. The challenge is there and I think we rank sixth at the moment and we have to work on getting it down. We have set ourselves some realistic goals. South Africa 2019 is our ultimate goal. We want to be where we think we can be with this group of players,” said the South African, who asserted that Misbah and Younus’ absence wasn’t felt at the training session and everyone went about their business and got cracking.
“The good thing with cricket is, you farewell two legends of the game but the next training session there are other people in their place and off you go. You are then trying to prepare a team as best as you can again,” added Arthur, whose replacements for the legends are debutants Haris Sohail and Usman Salahuddin.
Arthur, however, is well aware that the challenge to fit into the giant boots of Misbah and Younus can weigh heavily on these inexperienced duo and could suck them in even before the career kick starts. Hence, he asserts that the onus of leading the batting challenge has to be on the ones who have been there for long.
“It will be very unfair to the guys you bring in to the team to say they are the replacements. I think it is now on people like Azhar Ali, who has been superb for us last year in the Tests to take charge. Asad Shafiq and to an extent Babar Azam as well. It is incumbent on these three guys to stand up and take the bulk of the runs now,” said Arthur, who felt that the trio should understand that the new comers are where they were a couple of years back and will need their support to settle in.
To make that happen, the coach has a blueprint in place and with five newcomers in the squad one can expect a few changes in the batting order for the first Test. The coach has also ruled out the possibility of Sohail and Salahuddin making their debut together in the first Test.
“I can probably say there will be a little bit of shuffling in the order and probably one of the two will debut,” said Arthur, who also backed Sarfraz Ahmad to come good in his new role as Test captain.
“Safi is good and making his debut as the Test captain here and I’m really confident that in Safi we have got a very positive leader and he looks to take the game on and he is an attacking captain. I think he is going to be a very good captain to take the team forward,” felt Arthur, who has also warned his boys from taking Sri Lanka lightly just because they are coming into the tournament at the back of a poor series against India and because they are under the cloud of an ICC probe into corruption allegations. “Yes, they are going through a bit of turmoil but Sri Lanka in these conditions, you cannot take them lightly. They have some destructive batsmen who score at good rates and good bowling attack. In these conditions, they are a formidable opposition. We respect them greatly and obviously they come into a series at a time when they are under the gun a bit and that makes them a bit more dangerous. They have a massive point to prove,” said Arthur.