Australia v Pakistan, 1st Test, Melbourne, 5th day December 30, 2009

Stunted development, but hope floats

The side is not inexperienced, just the development of many has been stunted from a lack of Tests

Over the course of five days at the MCG, one truth about Pakistan gradually emerged from the strange haze of timidity and gloom and the starburst of youth: the fallout of 2008, their Year of No Tests, is not to be underestimated. By the end of the Sydney Test next week, Pakistan will have played 18 Tests in three years. Australia will have played 32 in the same period by then. And only one Pakistani - Kamran Akmal - has actually played in every one of those 18 Tests.

Test cricket requires strange ways of men. It has its own disciplines and rhythms and it isn't for everyone. Patience is needed, but not at the expense of alertness; lethargy is loathed but not always punished, where sometimes rushing things is. Sensing and riding the flow of a Test, of a session, of a period or situation is critical and it comes only over time. But if, like Salman Butt, Imran Farhat, Faisal Iqbal, Mohammad Asif and to an extent even Mohammad Yousuf, you have not been playing Tests regularly, these things are missed. And it hurts. The side is not inexperienced, just the development of many has been stunted from a lack of Test cricket.

Pakistan had good periods in Melbourne, good passages, mostly on the third and fourth day. But as happened in Sri Lanka and New Zealand earlier this year, those passages cannot be sustained. Good sessions are followed by flat ones, other crucial sessions they start off too slowly, concentration levels are poor at the start of sessions.

Catches are dropped at stages when they can be least afforded, runs are given away cheaply just after wickets are picked up, wickets are thrown away just when batsmen are set: recognising the importance of what is happening when you are doing well and why it is happening is as critical to sustaining it as anything else. Not being able to do it is Pakistan's misery.

Batsmen have been hit particularly hard by this intermittency of Tests. Numbers are not needed, only memory: how many batsmen were set in this Test, and in Tests against New Zealand and Sri Lanka when dismissed? The batting gods do not forgive that sin readily. In their last 14 Test innings now, Pakistan have crossed 350 - a basic minimum Test score - only twice. Younis Khan is no magic wand either for he was present on six of those occasions.

Admittedly Pakistan teams - even winning sides - have always reacted to their own, inconsistent rhythms and moods, session to session, day to day, but usually they have had men who can defy everything and win a Test from nothing. No such blessing is at hand just currently. The lack of Tests is hurting; coupled with the many basic issues Pakistan have always had - catching, slack running, fielding in general - it hurts doubly hard.

But if you're an optimist - and there are more of them per square mile than there ought to be in Pakistan - then the way to look at a tenth successive defeat against Australia would be to suggest that despite all this they managed to push Australia on some days. Depending on how you rate a nine-wicket defeat, a 170-run loss is the closest in terms of result between the two sides for five Tests and some years probably. At a stretch, they were still in with a shout as the final day dawned and certainly the captain thought so.

There was no humiliation here - though avoiding that is hardly an ambition - even if Australia declared twice. And it took, Ricky Ponting said later, the best bowling performance from an Australian side since the days of McGrath and Warne to win it.

There remains hope for Sydney. Something needs to be done about the fielding and batting, though little can be done on a tour. They will hope that the young can maintain their verve. Every day that the Test developed it became clearer too the folly of Umar Gul's omission and Danish Kaneria's absence was felt. That is the smaller picture and similar stuff could probably be said for just about every loss Pakistan have had for a while, maybe ever. The bigger picture is that they go to Sydney with at least one more Test's experience than they came into Melbourne with.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ayaz on January 2, 2010, 0:09 GMT

    It was such a disappointing defeat yet again. THey could have done a lot better than this. In the presense of Umer Gul how could they select Abd-ur-raouf. Let alone Umer Gul, Sami was there as well and we all know they he is way quicker than Raouf and a better batsman too.On the last day what I coudn't understand was that what were the instructions of coach to overcome Mitchell Johnson? They could have stood almost a foot outside the crease to negate his out swing or they could have taken the guard at middle stump. I hope that they would learnt something positive out of that defeat and inshallah try to perform better at SCG.

  • Ravi on January 1, 2010, 15:24 GMT

    what happened to sohaib malik, he used to be the pin boy before even younis khan made a name for himself as the #3 batsman for pakistan. i hope he is instated into the pak team soon.

  • Khalid on January 1, 2010, 4:07 GMT

    The issue with the Pakistan team's performance at all types of cricket is same however at test level it can't be masked. They have been dropping catches or getting out on ordinary balls all the times but the implications is not as great in shorter version of cricket than the test level. The basic deficiency I have noticed is the focus span; it seems to me that most crickets our players are currently playing are shorter version where players are not batting or fielding for long durations. When players are losing wickets on ordinary balls or if they are dropping catches which they will catch may be 10/10 in practice clearly indicates that they were reactive rather than prepared. To win a test you got to get 20 wickets, in past during the days of Imran, Waqar and Wasim we had the bowling capable of taking possibly 25 wickets 6 to 7 times out of 10 to make up for poor fielding. Currently we don't have the bowling that strong. We need to start coaching players how to focus and when to focus

  • Irfan on January 1, 2010, 2:20 GMT

    I am surprised why no one is talking about the suspiscious nature of the catch that dismissed Umar Akmal. I have played a lot of cricket and I am not trying to act like a sore loser. I also agree with the need for cricket revival in Pakistan. But I just cannot understand this decision. Lets walk-thru this thing. If onfield umpires make a referral, the 3rd umpire has to be 'dead sure' and 'beyond any doubt' that the wicket cannot be denied before he can give it out. I am not saying this bcz I am a Pakistani, but I ask everyone to look at it again and again in youtube to see if there isn't a doubt about it as it looks grounded in closeup. Even Ian Chappel during review said something along the lines of; is this a certain catch? and whether 3rd umpire can give something like this out or not. Afterwards, Bill Lawry says 'its as clean as a whistle'. Umpires seem susceptable to aus pressures, even ICC. This decision was make/break for this game. Remember Aus v Ind series a few years back??

  • Farrukh on January 1, 2010, 1:54 GMT

    Ultimately, many factors lead to this dismal defeat -- not least, the horrible catching that was unfortunately witnessed by people all around the globe. However, one cannot stay quiet regarding the hopeless selection of players. Given the performance of the batsmen, I can only pause and ponder how the team would have performed with the addition of Imran Nazir, Fawad Alam, Asim Kamal, Saeed bin Nasir, Abdul Razzaq, and Anwar Ali.

    Imran Nazir and Fawad Alam are superb fielders and on his day, Imran can destroy a bowling attack at a mind-boggling run-rate. Fawad can also pitch in with his slow left-arm off-spin. Asim Kamal and Saeed bin Nasir are hardcore first-class batsmen who are not being given chances. Abdul Razzaq can surely contribute more than Imran Farhat, Faisal Iqbal, and Misbah ul-Haq. Anwar Ali aka "Daddy of Swing" is not being given a chance at all and I can only imagine the trio of Muhammad Asif, Muhammad Aamer, and Anwar Ali bowing in Australia.

  • Ejaz on December 31, 2009, 18:03 GMT

    I believe only if Pak manage to hold on to crucial catches they can compete in test matches. Just imagine if the Aus were 11/1 instead of 181/1 in the first inn. Every sport is a psychological game, more than it is a physical affair. No. 3 batsman coming in at 11 has a totally different mind set than coming in at 181. Both the Aus openers were given lives that resulted in about 150 runs. Getting wickets, specially early wickets brings confidence and aggression in a side, specially the bowlers. When wickets are not coming by, and the rare opportunities are missed, it drains out energy, and demoralizes the side. The MCG test was a perfect example with both of these scenarios playing out with Pak team. Catches win matches, just hold on to your catches, keep wickets coming, get opposition out within a reasonable total, batsmen go out without a pressure of trying to save a test in the first inn and play their natural game, and this Pak team can certainly compete even with this weak bat

  • Rumesh on December 31, 2009, 17:48 GMT

    I am reading some people blaming the captain for this defeat which is wrong. Captain can't do anything when players are not capable to perform at the highest level. If you anaylise correctly you will get your answers. 1) Openers are the weakest link.. specially Salman Butt, who after 25 odd tests he still averages under 30. You need somebody like Langer or Gambhir who can defend and also attack. 2) Middle order batsmen not technically good to play on bouncy tracks apart from M Yosuf. (Misbah,S.Malik,F.Iqbal should be shown the door) 3) Bowlers give up too easily when opposition attacks them. These are the weak links...Not the captain.

  • L on December 31, 2009, 12:54 GMT

    Good Article indeed but the real issue is overall composition of the team itself is at fault. Look at the opening pair, simply lack the quality of test openers ( not that they do have ODI or T20). Asif said melbourne wickets remind him of faislabad which is utter nonsense or lazy excuse for a test quality bowler. Yousuf thinks T20 is causing the issue... I wonder he got the chance to play IPL after ICL...

  • Haroon on December 31, 2009, 10:30 GMT

    How much we miss the days of Imran Khan. It is clear that being a moral person are no credentials of being a good leader. You need to be creative, gutsy, sometimes audacious, think independently, solve problems, stand your ground (even against the board and ICC), learn from mistakes, be articulate, charismatic, resourceful and have the talent to lead from the front. The management puts up subservient and obedient captains. They tried to interfere with Imran Khan in the 80s but failed. We need captains who can make Pakistan win: Select his team, draw talent from remote areas, teach them, train them, groom them, turn them into a fearless fighting lot, and then perhaps you could challenge Australia as we did West Indies in the 80s. However, there doesn't seem to be anyone with those credentials. The current captain seems too nice, too obedient, thinking all the right thoughts, lacklustre, without energy. Just the person the unimaginative bureaucracy of PCB would love to have.

  • Haroon on December 31, 2009, 10:08 GMT

    I think under the current, lacklustre, captaincy, nothing can be achieved. There is no energy, no initiative; it seems the team is not even trying to win. We need Afridi in the test team to bring some sting into the spinning department-which even with the inclusion of Kaneria looks innocuous. Overall the spirit seemed dead. Dropping crucial catches is criminal. These players are representing 150 million people of Pakistan who have put their hopes in them. And they can't even hold on to catches. There should be repurcussions. This is dishonest. Why don't they practice? Why not work hard? If we lose with honour, go down fighting, people won't mind; but they way they have gone down lately is just hopeless and demoralizing for the nation. It shows the nation has no direction, only going through the motions.

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