Downed Under

Whitewash in the first leg of the tour Down Under doesn't bode well for the second half, writes K Shahid

Downed Under
The 2-0 whitewash against New Zealand means that Pakistan have now lost three Tests on the bounce. It was Pakistan’s first Test series loss against New Zealand in three decades. The hosts, meanwhile, were coming off four straight losses before the start of the series.

And to think it all could have been so different when Azhar Ali and Sami Aslam had put on 131 in four hours, without the loss of any wickets on the final day. All of a sudden the exceedingly improbable 369 had looked possible, with memories of that ‘maghrib’ chase rekindling. But Pakistan then went on to lose all ten wickets for 99 runs, nine of them in a frantic final session.
Pakistan need to get the New Zealand defeat out of their system as soon as possible

In the context of the series Pakistan would have been urged to look for a win, when Azhar and Sami were going well, considering that the visitors had been 1-0 down. Even so, a 1-0 defeat wouldn’t have had been as demoralising as the two nil sweep, with the series against Australia just a couple of weeks away.

Barring Babar Azam, it is hard to take many positives out of the New Zealand series. The three wickets in each innings for Imran Khan could be one, but everything else was pretty much downhill. And the irony is: when the complete squad is fit and available, these two might not find a spot in the starting 11.

Pakistan squad for the tour to Australia

Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), Azhar Ali, Sami Aslam, Sharjeel Khan, Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Mohammad Rizwan, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz, Rahat Ali, Sohail Khan, Imran Khan

Pakistan have named an unchanged squad for the three-match series against Australia, despite Kamran Akmal and Mohammed Hafeez being given consideration. And while the Pakistan Cricket Board has requested captain Misbah-ul-Haq to continue until 2018, there’s a good chance that this might be the last series that he captains Pakistan in.

Azhar Ali
Azhar Ali

As suggested in this space earlier, on paper, the tour to Australia might not be as big a challenge as the New Zealand series was, but following a 2-0 defeat, a depleted Aussie side might look that much more ominous. With Pakistan chasing their first win in Australia for two decades, they need to completely remove the New Zealand series from their collective memory.

Even though the multiple batting collapses are the most obvious cause behind the team’s convincing defeats, it can be argued that as has been the case in the recent past, the fast bowlers didn’t quite show up in perfect conditions for seam bowling. And while the team management did take the bold decision to go with four seamers and bench Yasir Shah - their main wicket-taker over the past couple of years - the pacer who looked the likeliest to take wickets was Imran Khan, who is last on the pecking order.

The mixed showings of Wahab Riaz - who wasn’t picked for the first Test - and Mohammed Amir, the two leaders of Pakistan’s pace attack, are worrisome for a side that has historically taken wickets from fast-bowlers for granted. It is now looking increasingly inevitable that Pakistan won’t be winning too many matches when Yasir Shah doesn’t take many scalps.

What happened to Pakistani fast bowling is a topic for another day, but the defeat in New Zealand - Pakistan’s first series defeat for over two years - might have given everyone a template to beat Pakistan: prepare prodigiously seaming wickets and outdo Pakistan’s pace attack, which is becoming increasingly easy to do.

On the batting front, Younis Khan’s no-show throughout the four innings was worrisome, especially since low scores for him are becoming more frequent than ever. Asad Shafiq going back to number 6, might have given us a new star at one-down in Babar Azam, but it is evident that Asad is short on confidence now.

Misbah’s return to the squad after missing the second Test should give everyone a boost. But as is evident, too many things are going wrong for the team ahead of what many have described as the ultimate challenge for Pakistan cricket. The squad needs to regroup quickly and let bygones be bygones as soon as possible.