Captain Sarfraz happy with Pakistan’s 2018 performance

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Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed has hailed the team’s overall performance in 2018 as the year draws to a close.

Over the course of the year, Pakistan played nine Tests, winning four and losing four, while they won eight of the 18 ODIs, with the series-decider against New Zealand being washed-out after they had set the Kiwis a 280-run victory target.

In the shortest format, Pakistan won a world-record 17 out of 19 matches, including victories in the Zimbabwe tri-series and series wins over Australia and the New Zealand — both at the Black Caps home and the UAE.

According to a press release issued by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), although Sarfraz was satisfied with the team’s performance, he lamented the lack of consistency.

“It has been a long year in which there have been some exceptional and some ordinary performances,” said Sarfraz. “Overall, I think we have done well, but I accept we could have had better results had we shown a little more consistency.”

The wicketkeeper-batsman also admitted the retirements of Pakistan batting greats — Younis Khan and Misbahul Haq — had a major say on how the Test team performed in 2018 as the duo were sorely missed.

“This was the first calendar year in which Pakistan was playing without stalwarts like Younis Khan and Misbahul Haq in the Test match format” he said. “They have been an integral part of the dressing room for many years and without their presence, it was a sort of a strange feeling. I know many players have missed them and we as a team have certainly missed their experience and knowledge.”

Sarfraz went on to show optimism in finding replacements for Misbah and Younis in the near future, but believes it will be a difficult task overall.

“It’s neither easy to replace such talent nor does it happen overnight,” said Sarfraz. “We have to go through the process and I think the middle-order has done a good job against tough oppositions and in not very easy conditions. This has been a massive learning year for our middle-order and I am sure they’ll learn from their mistakes and get better in matches to come.”

Sarfraz also said the year has also seen the emergence of some outstanding talent — such as pacer Mohammad Abbas and middle-order batsman Babar Azam.

“Mohammad Abbas is one such player, who has caught everyone by surprise with the way he bowled in the UAE,” he said. “The world has already billed him as the future number one bowler and we are so fortunate to have someone like him in the side, someone we can always rely on any surface and in any match situation. And how can one forget Babar Azam, one of the most elegant and graceful batsmen in the world, one who is blossoming into an international star.”

Sarfraz also heaped praise on leg-spinner Yasir Shah by saying: “Yasir is another talented player and probably the best wrist-spinner in the world today. In 2018, he only got better and better and I am confident he has plenty of match-winning performances left in him.”

The 31-year-old added that it is important for the senior players in the side to lead the way and complement the younger players in the side adequately.

“I think the onus is more on seniors like Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Amir, Shoaib Malik and myself to lead the way, take more responsibility and ensure this multi-talented young group continues to flourish and scales new heights,” he said. “I have no doubts that the future of Pakistan cricket is promising and in safe and capable hands. We just need to look after this talent and back and support them so that they can continue to thrive.”

Looking ahead to international cricket in 2019, Sarfaraz said the first half of the year would be a tough and a challenging one for his side.

“First things first, we have an ongoing series against South Africa in which we want to do well,” he added. “As such, the focus of the players and player support personnel is on the upcoming matches. Then, we have an ODI series against Australia followed by the tour of England for ODIs and the World Cup.”

ARTHUR WEIGHS IN:

Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur has been thoroughly impressed with the improvement in Pakistan team’s fielding standards during 2018.

With the year nearing its close, Arthur said that the reason why team has fared well in the fielding department is due to players’ commitment and hard work.

“The area which has pleased me the most has been the side’s fielding, which has also been noticed and appreciated by the pundits and experts,” said Arthur in a press release issued by the PCB. “We have taken some excellent catches and inflicted stunning run-outs, apart from saving many runs. This is a testament of the players’ commitment and hard work, as fielding is very much an individual thing and one has to push oneself to excel in this department.”

Speaking about the team’s best performances of the year, Arthur said: “The Lord’s victory over England, a 1-0 series win over Australia and world record 17 T20I victories were obviously the highlights of the year.”

Arthur admitted that the team is currently in transition and expects better performances from them in the upcoming years.

“This is a side in transition and has shown considerable improvement in the past 12 months. I am convinced that the best from this outstanding young group of players is yet to come,” he said.

In the ICC rankings, Pakistan remained in seventh position in the Test table but gained four points to rise to 92 points, while they moved up one place to fifth in the ODI rankings. In the T20I table, Pakistan seized the top spot from New Zealand and finished in number one position on 138 points after collecting 14 points during the year.

Although there were moments — throughout the year — where the team’s performance was below-par but that does not bother the South African as long as the team is focused and putting in the hard yards.

“Of course, mistakes have been made and those have cost us badly, but that doesn’t take away the fact that the boys have tried their best and worked hard. They have shown the world that they have the talent and grit, and now it’s time they start translating that flair into positive results,” he said.  “There have been good days and not so good days, but we have stayed together as a group and have aimed to continue to work harder and better. I am confident that good results are waiting for us down the road.”