Abu Dhabi boasts the world's fastest roller coaster - Formula Rossa. But watching the last hour of the first Test match between Pakistan and New Zealand in the capital city of UAE was more exhilarating and heart-stopping than hitching a ride at the amusement park. Needing just 46 more runs with seven wickets in hand, Pakistan suffered a dramatic collapse to stumble to a four-run defeat. The shambolic run chase has put pressure on Sarfraz Ahmed and his men as they hope to bounce back in the second Test, which starts in Dubai from Friday, 24 November.
"It was a disappointing performance by the batsmen and we had a detailed chat with our batting unit. When our batsmen get a start, they need to build on that to put up a big score rather than expecting the others to do the finishing job," said the Pakistan captain.
Sarfraz was himself guilty of throwing his wicket away with the team still needing 22 runs.
"It is tough to reconcile to the fact that we lost a game when it looked we were in the driver's seat. But we have moved on from the heartbreak of Abu Dhabi and we look to make a fresh start without carrying the baggage of that painful defeat," Sarfraz added.
This was the third instance in last one and half years where the team had failed to chase down a total of less than 200 in the fourth innings. Last year in Abu Dhabi, Pakistan faltered against Sri Lanka while chasing 136, suffering a 21-run loss. The frequency of the collapses prompted coach Micky Arther to suggest to the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to get sports psychologists on board.
Mohammad Hafeez made a gallant comeback against Australia scoring a masterly hundred in the first Test but has looked woefully out of touch in the next five innings, averaging below 12. A lean outing in Dubai could put pressure on the selectors to bring back Fakhar Zaman as an opener. Zaman, who scored two half-centuries in his debut Test, was rested for the first two matches of this series and is currently undergoing rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Lahore.
Azhar Ali, painted the villain of the run chase in Abu Dhabi for firstly being involved in the run out of Babar Azam and then failing to effectively farm the strike towards the close, has been going through a barren patch. His poor return with the bat has ensured that he will also be under the scanner. The right-handed batsman with over 5000 runs under his belt has averaged just 21 in this calendar year in six Test matches.
Asad Shafiq and Babar Azam have looked good in patches but both have failed to convert the good starts into hundreds. Haris Sohail played some attractive strokes during his stint in the middle but perished in identical fashion in both the innings to innocuous full tosses.
Despite the horror show with the bat, Pakistan are unlikely to make any changes to their batting line-up which means Saad Ali, who has been making big runs in the domestic season and carried the drinks in the first Test, will continue to warm the benches. Pakistan's bench strength in the bowling department includes Faheem Ashraf, Mir Hamza and Shaheen Afridi. Off-spinner Bilal Asif had a forgettable outing with both bat and the ball in Abu Dhabi and might make way for one of the fast bowlers.
Afridi, who had made a big impact during the limited-overs format against New Zealand, bagged seven wickets in an unofficial Test match against England Lions a few days ago and has roared into contention to make his Test debut. Pakistan bowling attack led by Yasir Shah looked sharp with Hasan Ali also regaining his form.
New Zealand will be looking to bolster their bowling attack by including Tim Southee in the playing XI. The Kiwi think tank had hinted at rotating their fast bowlers during the series to keep their pacers refreshed during the busy season ahead. This means Boult might be rested to make way for Southee and if New Zealand decide to opt for a three-pronged pace attack, Colin Grandhomme might be dropped.
Mumbai born Ajaz Patel dramatically spun the match in New Zealand's favour on the fourth day in Abu Dhabi and will be hoping for some more help from another spinner of Indian origin Ish Sodhi, who looked rusty in the first match. If Sodhi fails to make it to the playing XI, New Zealand might blood off-spinner Will Somerville.
In the batting department, Kane Williamson looked a cut above the rest while negotiating the spinners. BJ Watling and Henry Nicholls scored fighting half-centuries in the second innings and will look to continue their good form. Jeet Raval and Tom Latham at the top have looked vulnerable and will need to up their game to thwart the Pakistan bowlers.
New Zealand's only away series win against Pakistan came in 1969 when Graham Dowling's team emerged victorious in Lahore and drew matches in Karachi and Dhaka. With Pakistan feeling the heat after their defeat in Abu Dhabi, Kane Willilamson and his men have a golden chance to emulate this rare feat.