New Zealand tour will be a tough challenge for Team Sarfraz

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Captain Sarfraz Ahmed’s presser in Karachi on Wednesday oozed with confidence. And why shouldn’t it have, considering the run that Pakistan have been on in limited overs cricket.

Since Sarfraz took over the T20 side, Pakistan have beaten West Indies home and away, overcome the World XI in the Independence Cup and clean swept Sri Lanka. In ODIs, his side has managed to beat West Indies away and clean swept Sri Lanka, while bagging the second biggest silverware in ODI cricket, the Champions Trophy in June this year.

However, Sarfraz realises the challenge in New Zealand would a completely different one for Pakistan team not only considering the conditions are significantly different, but also because New Zealand have a much stronger side – at least on paper and in their conditions – compared to the teams that Pakistan have been undoing in bilateral series.

“We played well in ODIs and T20Is against Sri Lanka and I am looking forward to continuing the momentum,” Sarfraz said in the press conference.

“We will have a short camp here ahead of the tour and we are planning to reached New Zealand at least 8 to 10 days before the start of series, which will provide us ample time to gel in the conditions,” he added.

Pakistan play five ODIs and three T20Is against New Zealand in January. This would mean that they won’t have played any international cricket for two months – November and December – before embarking on the tour.

While we’ll continue the build-up to the tour in the coming month, the other issues touched by Sarfraz in the press conference were also interesting.

Especially the fact that Sarfraz wished Fawad Alam well and hoped that the reward was in store for him, considering the performances in first class cricket ‘Allah ke ghar dair hai, andhair nahi’.

“I hope Fawad will soon get a chance and perform for Pakistan,” Sarfraz said.

It was shocking for many that Fawad Alam wasn’t even considered a part of the squad even after both Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq simultaneously retired. Many would consider him a shoo-in for the starting 11, let alone not even being considered a squad member.

But Sarfraz was honest about his side’s performance in Tests, with a whitewash in Tests at ‘home’ against a depleted Sri Lanka side.

“We are in post-Misbah and -Younis era and that’s why we struggled, it will take some time but I am sure that our Test team will be on same path as the ODI,” he said.

Perhaps that’s where his well-wishes for Fawad might’ve come straight from the heart. For, even though Haris Sohail was arguably Pakistan’s pick of the batsmen in the Test series, none of the other batsmen – including the experiences Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali, the latter albeit carrying an injury – showed up on pitches and stadia that they’ve dominated in the past.

Also considering the struggles of Sami Aslam and Shan Masood on those decks, there might be a case to push Azhar Ali back up top – where he has been scoring runs for a couple of years now – and then maybe bring Fawad Alam in the middle order. But there’s over six months till Pakistan’s next Test assignment.

Sarfraz also managed to survive a barrage of bizarre questions in the press conference, owing perhaps to there not being any international cricket matches to ask queries about.

He was asked if he was insecure with the form of Kamran Akmal, who scored 150* for Lahore Whites against Islamabad in National T20 Cup, the highest T20 score ever by a wicketkeeper and along the way creating a new world record for the highest-ever opening partnership in the format with Salman Butt as the duo scored 209 runs.

“This is Pakistan’s team and whoever performs, will get to play for the country. I am not insecure or threatened by anyone’s performance,” Sarfraz said. “Kami was included in the team earlier this year as well and if I was insecure why would have I included him in the squad,” he added.

The defensiveness wasn’t needed at all, for if there’s one person whose place in the side is the most secure it’s Sarfraz. And it’s his blooming leadership skills that would be put to the test in New Zealand.