The Transcontinental Test Clash: Australia VS Pakistan Down Under

  • 06 Jan - 12 Jan, 2024
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Sports

Once upon a time, in the world of cricket, my heart swayed with the sheer joy of witnessing Pakistan's gallant battles on Australian soil. Flashbacks from my early years danced in my mind, where I vividly remember being urged to surrender to sleep instead of staying up to witness the “Cornered Tigers” in action during the '92 World Cup. Picture this – the picturesque Australian grounds, the early morning hours of Ramadan that year, and the intoxicating allure of cricket that refused to let me slumber. Little did I know, history was unfolding before my drowsy eyes, and had I been aware, I would've rebelled against the elders who, ironically, were basking in the emergence of new cricketing heroes on that grand stage.

My enchantment with cricket in Australia began with that iconic crystal earth-shaped trophy, the tournament's grand introduction, and who could forget the World Cup anthem "The world is coming down"? To this day, the thought of cricket in this region delights me with its idyllic setting. The conditions down under have this magical ability to turn any cricketing contest into a riveting spectacle.

For a generation of Australian cricket enthusiasts, the Pakistan Test team has often been a subject of disdain during their visits. The statistics paint a grim picture for Pakistan, having endured 14 consecutive losses and not a single series win in Australia spanning over two decades. The last time Pakistan won a Test match here was back in 1995.

In addition to this losing streak, the visitors were tamed in enthralling thrillers like Hobart '99 and Sydney '10, under the leadership of two greats of the game Wasim Akram and Muhammad Yousuf respectively, solidifying their image in Australia as a mercurial team. Expectations for the Shaheens to challenge Kangaroos are low, as Pakistan ushers in a new era whereas Test cricket is Australia’s forte.

Test cricket down under: A challenge and a privilege

Australia, the land of cricketing legends and storied pitches, is a rite of passage for any Test-playing nation. Stepping onto Australian stadiums to partake in a Test match is not merely a cricketing contest; it's an odyssey laden with challenges and opportunities for cricketing glory. The pace and bounce in pitches can be unforgiving, demanding adjustment from batsmen accustomed to different conditions. Moreover, players must not only excel in their skills but also possess the mental resilience to thrive amidst verbal jousting, aimed at unsettling opponents, as the sledging culture exacerbates the mindset. However, it's not all about the hurdles. Playing Test cricket in Australia offers a chance for players to etch their names in cricketing folklore. The joy of scoring runs or taking wickets on these hallowed turfs resonates in cricketing history. The respect earned by performing in Australia is unparalleled, revered by peers and fans, alike.

Players to watch out for

It is the maiden voyage for Shan Masood as the leader and has already shown intent, contributing to Pakistan's successful return to an aggressive style during a recent series victory in Sri Lanka. Comparisons to the 'Bazball' era have naturally arisen, although the true test lies in Pakistan's commitment against an Australian team still reveling in their recent World Cup triumph. The threadbare bowling lineup of Pakistan has largely been dismissed over its ability to take 20 wickets. This is where Shaheen Afridi steps in whose skill in swing bowling with the new cherry will be crucial for creating early breakthroughs.

Pakistan needs their talisman Babar Azam as they rely on him to rediscover the form that resulted in scores of 104 and 97 during the last outing. Waqar Younis said, “He's still in his shell, not really playing his natural way,". Younis acknowledges the challenge posed by skillful bowlers but emphasises the need for him to adapt and find a way, as accomplished players often do.

Marnus Labuschagne had a lean 2023, maintaining an average of 35. A year ago, his Test average stood at an impressive 59.05, but it has now dipped to 52.15. Despite this, there's confidence that Labuschagne will bounce back to his usual best. Nathan Lyon is eager to return. Lyon is focusing on enhancing his record against Pakistan. Against them, he has taken 45 wickets in 12 Tests at an average of 46.57, his highest against any opponent. With the 500 wickets haul achieved, he became only the 3rd Australian to achieve this feat. David Warner commenced his swansong in Test cricket with a blistering century, asserting dominance over a denuded Pakistan bowling lineup, allowing Australia to take an early grip on the series-opener.

Crushing defeat at Perth

Australia thumped a resounding 360 run-win, courtesy of the formidable partnership between Usman Khawaja and Mitchell Marsh, preceding the visitors' collapse, resulting in a meager score of 89. Skipper Shan Masood in his captaincy debut, faced a challenging start. Despite his earlier contribution of a quick 30 in Pakistan's first innings, Masood's team struggled to embody the proactive style of cricket he had pledged before the series.

The hopes of Pakistan hinged on their star player, Babar Azam, who resisted Australia's bowling onslaught for an hour. He displayed resilience against Cummins, reigniting their intense duel throughout this test. However, Babar succumbed to a superb Cummins delivery that moved away sharply, resulting in a caught-behind dismissal at 14, following his contribution of 21 runs in Pakistan's first innings.

All was not lost as debutant seamers Khurram Shahzad and Aamer Jamal impressed by combining for 12 of Pakistan's 15 wickets in the match. They bowled a nagging length late on day four and early on day five to rough up several Australian batters. However, Pakistan needs a genuine pacer, as the proverbial saying goes “Pace is Pace Yaaar” (There is no replacement for it!).

Relentless Cummins secures the series at the “G”

The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), played host to the Boxing Day Test. The pleasantries were exchanged on Christmas, it could be seen that Pakistan’s skipper presenting gifts to Pat Cummins, which I think hinted that this would be a friendly series instead of being competitive. Pakistan needs to show more teeth, if they are to challenge the world champions. A former Australian cricketer said it best, “You are not going to beat Australia playing in the best of spirits.” Now back to action on the pitch, Labuschagne withstood the onslaught from an overhauled Pakistan seam attack on a probing MCG pitch; once again the youngster Aamer Jamal was the pick of the bowlers, who bagged crucial wickets to restrict the hosts.

Pakistan’s reply orchestrated by their leader was impressive; his fearless brand of cricket was evident in his half century, and he, together with Abdullah Shafique, took Pakistan to a respectable 1st innings score. Muhammad Rizwan does justice to his selection with decent scores in each innings and near work behind the stumps. Shafique, however, would find himself at the focal point of the pivotal moment that shifted the game in favour of Australia, as Marsh was dropped at 20 and then he went on to score 96 – that drop proved costly as Pakistan lost by 79 runs.

Once more, the skipper along with Babar Azam gave a snare to the opposition with their expressive batting. The duo were closing in for a phenomenal series-levelling victory as the match appeared to be heading towards a close finish. Albeit, Cummins had other plans and produced a brutal spell late on day four to down Pakistan's audacious chase of 317. With the WTC ranking in sight, it will be interesting to see cricket’s biggest rivals playing on foreign soil. India is playing in South Africa, their performance is being keenly observed as I am sure their fans would be keeping an eye on Pakistan’s tour as well. The comparisons draw parallel, as to how a player from the sub-continent fares outside and who comes out on top.

About the writer

Shahzeb Ali Rizvi is a sports aficionado with a keen eye for the intricacies of cricket and football. He can be reached at [email protected].