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Sarfraz Ahmed was withering in his assessment of his own fast bowlers in the wake of South Africa’s nine-wicket win that sealed the series here in Cape Town. In the post-match press conference, a visibly irritated Pakistan captain bemoaned the “big difference” between his seamers and South Africa’s, saying the lack of pace with which Pakistan had bowled “won’t get you wickets”.

For much of the second day, which saw a 156-run partnership between Faf du Plessis and Temba Bavuma effectively take the game out of the visitors’ reach, Pakistan’s pace had declined. Mohammad Amir‘s reduced speed was the most notable, with the left-armer bowling 61% of his deliveries between 120-132 kph, the slowest he has bowled in his career, according to CricViz. Sarfraz said it was not the first time his bowlers had been down on pace in Cape Town, but was at a loss to explain why.

“If you talk about our bowling and their bowling, I think there’s a big difference in the two,” he said. “The way our bowlers are bowling is not up to the mark in this Test match. If you see our bowlers, they’re bowling 128-129, and the average speed is 130, while their bowlers are bowling at 145. If you are going to bowl with that lack of pace here you won’t get wickets.

“I don’t know what’s going on there. Previously it happened, too, when I came here in 2013, the same problem occurred. At the time we had [Mohammad] Irfan, Umar Gul and Tanvir Ahmed. Their pace was down too. I don’t know what’s happening here in Cape Town.”

He made clear he thought South Africa “were fitter than us”, and while he acknowledged the batsmen didn’t put enough runs on the board, he repeatedly criticised the bowling for not keeping his side in the contest, even unfavourably comparing them to Pakistan’s batting.

“Credit goes to their bowlers, they bowled really well and did not give us any bad balls,” he said. “If you look at our batsmen, our batsmen played some quality shots. When they batted, they played good shots too, but we gave them so many loose balls.

“We are very disappointed, but as a team we are not playing well in Test cricket. We’re playing worse in Tests than all other forms. The way we bowled in Centurion was far better so we were hopeful we would get wickets here. But if we took wickets here in this Test that would have helped because we didn’t have enough runs on the board; we had just over 170 runs [in the first innings]. If we had taken wickets we would have restricted them to 250, 300 or something like that. I think that would have been a different story but we didn’t capitalise in those moments.”

Sarfraz’s castigation of the bowlers marks a dramatic fall from grace of a pace attack that was thought to be Pakistan’s best hope of keeping this series competitive. Before the series, Sarfraz had talked about the bowling being “our strength”, while South Africa captain Faf du Plessis had praised Pakistan for “having a fantastic group of bowlers”. It was also surprising, in that most observers attributed Pakistan’s lack of fight to the failure of the batsmen to put runs on the board; Pakistan’s second innings was the first time this series they crossed 200 in an innings.

It also brings into sharp focus the debate surrounding Pakistan’s decision to go with four specialist bowlers and leave out Faheem Ashraf, who would have bolstered their seam-bowling options without lengthening the tail. However, Mickey Arthur said after the second day he wasn’t yet confident enough in Ashraf’s batting to view him as a legitimate allrounder, leading to the decision to play six specialist batsmen at Newlands.

Sarfraz praised the batsmen for the fight they showed on the third day, helping Pakistan avoid an innings defeat, but said if they were to convert combativeness into wins, they needed to get the opposition out twice.

“For the third Test match, we need to bat like we batted in the second innings,” he said. “I think we have nothing to lose. If you want to win Test matches, you have to take 20 wickets. If you don’t take 20 wickets, you’re not going to win. All Asian teams who win away, like India did in Johannesburg last year, take 20 wickets.”

Sarfraz also said Pakistan’s decision to rejig the batting order, promoting the inform Shan Masood to open while pushing Fakhar Zaman down to No. 6, was an attempt to play to Fakhar’s strengths and shield him from the new ball. While Masood managed to record a half-century in his regular position, Fakhar going down the order didn’t help him discover the form he has searched for all series, scoring just 7 before being dismissed off yet another short ball.

“Fakhar likes to play shots. He’s facing problems with the new ball and Shan Masood is playing really well, so that’s why we changed the order to see if Fakhar played better at number six.”

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