In the end it was a whitewash, fourth in a row for Pakistani touring teams in Australia. And like every touring team before it, it was hard to believe despite the strength of the Australian sides in 1999, 2004, 2010; on this tour even more so because it was an Australia side that was, man to man, weaker than the sides led by Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting in those three series before.
Yet, never before in Australia had Pakistan scored 450 in a fourth innings and came so close to topping 489, the target to win. This after a failure in batting first time out. Never before in Australia had a Pakistan batsman went beyond 158 as an individual score, scored by Majid Khan way back in 1972. Not Hanif Mohammad before him and not Zaheer, Mushtaq, Asif Iqbal, Sadiq and Miandad alongside him, even though all scored hundreds in Australia.
This time not only did both Azhar Ali and Younus Khan cross that in one series but Azhar went on to score a double century. And had Younus Khan not run out of partners when he was on 175, he would have been another.
In fact, three batsmen finished with a batting average above 50 including wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed; perhaps the first time a Pakistani wicketkeeper had a Test batting average that high on an Australian tour even though the list includes Salim Yousuf, Moin Khan, Rashid Latif and Kamran Akmal.
It was on this tour that Asad Shafiq crossed Sir Gary Sobers record of six hundreds at No.6, and it was such a fighting innings that the man-of-the-match selectors chose a player on the losing side for the award. That is indeed very, very rare.
What was indeed very gratifying was the fighting spirit of the lower order, even if it wasn’t there when Pakistan needed it most on the final day of both the second and third Tests. But the way Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz and Yasir Shah batted in the second innings of the first Test, Sohail Khan in the first innings of the second Test where he smacked 4 sixes and 6 fours in an innings of 65 at run-a-ball, and Yasir Shah’s defiance on the last day of the third Test coming in as nightwatchman was commendable.
All this has shown that somewhere inside there is a fighting spirit. What it needs now is to figure out what drives this and why it is not more consistent. Is it lack of mental strength, application, and concentration? Is it just down to the lack of stamina and physical fitness?
It could also be a mislaid strategy. Babar Azam is a hugely talented batsman but to send him at No.3 in Tests on his very first tour of Australia was a huge risk. It not only led to early successes for Australia in every Test but also deprived Pakistan of a sound No.5 where he would have been far more useful and stoic.
Younus was coming in early anyway, so he might as well have come in one down. He’s batted successfully at that position before in Tests and as senior batsmen, both he and Misbah should have shouldered the responsibility at the top considering both Sami Aslam and Azhar Ali were playing not just the first time on an Australian tour but were entrusted the task of opening. Within that combination, Sami was fighting for his place after his performance in New Zealand.
Where Pakistan failed spectacularly was in their bowling. Wahab Riaz was their best with 11 wickets but at an average of 36 which was still the least among all Pakistani bowlers. Very poor for a Test outing. Amir went for an average of 61 and Yasir for an average of 84! At no time was it expected that all four of the Pakistani bowlers would fail together in every innings of the three Tests, with the final humiliation coming on the fourth day of the third test when they went for almost 8 an over from start to finish in a matter three hours as Australia batted to declare. I cannot recall a tour in recent times where no Pakistani bowler failed to take fiver in an innings.
Was it a hidden injury that made Yasir Shah so impotent? Otherwise the bouncier tracks in Australia make arty leg spinners reap a few batsmen. Ask Shane Warne. In fact in 1995 it was Mushtaq Ahmed who spun Pakistan to a grand 74-run victory at Sydney with 5-95 & 4-91.
Yasir Shah is considered a better spinner by even Mushtaq and ranked closer to Shane Warne by experts and even Warne himself, it was baffling how he was wafted at will; the slaughter of his bowling on the fourth day of the last Test by Warner, Khawaja, Smith and Handscomb the ultimate going away insult.
I feel it may have been a niggling injury that was rumored and because of which Asghar was rushed to Australia as a stand by. If so the team management did him no favour. Misbah has been known to stretch his successful bowlers for too long; Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz have suffered from that previously.
I also feel that the selection of Rahat Ali in the first Test at Brisbane was not on considering how Sohail Khan had bowled in Australia during the World Cup two years back. He would have been more useful than Rahat was in a day night game where it is cooler and where he could have got the ball to swing which is dangerous at his pace. His presence would have added another layer to Pakistan’s late order defiance in chasing 489; proof being how he batted at Melbourne.
At Sydney, Pakistan should have gone in with two spinners as even Australia did. It was clear by then that both Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Amir were tired and needed breaks during which the run rate had to be reasonable for when they returned to bowl. Spin at both ends could have ensured that as Australians would have done no homework on Asghar.
Having said all that, what hurts is that Pakistan could not bat out one hour more in each of the last two Tests to save the game. What was incredible was that the normally solid Misbah not just failed so miserably but in his last three innings got out so stupidly; at Melbourne sweeping his second ball with the knowledge that backward square leg was there just for that shot and having survived a scare off that same attempted shot on his first ball.
What hurt from Younus khan was that incredibly idiotic shot at Brisbane when he reverse swept a ball on his off stump and so ahead of him. Had he not done that Pakistan could have won, as his partner at the other end, Asad Shafiq was there till less than fifty was needed.
These suicidal instincts and a higher level of match fitness for key bowlers is what Mickey Arthur has to work on. The catching as well and the placement of the slip fielders. Slightly more application by the batsman, slightly better catching and a layer of extra fitness and Pakistan could have won this series 1-0 despite their bowling being what it was. •