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July 28, 2013

Australia are now Pakistan

Hassan Cheema
Hey, they even have an Australian coach now!  © Getty Images
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A generation of Pakistanis grew up fearing Australia. There was little admiration or ability to relate, just fear. Even more than Hansie Cronje's South Africa, it was Steve Waugh's team who became tormentors of Pakistan's great champions. At Lord's in 1999 they killed the idealism of a generation. Six months later, in Hobart, they prepared coffins for the most talented group of Pakistani cricketers there ever will be. These Australian teams saw the holes in Pakistan's armour and bluster and drove a spear through them.

Pakistan failed to win a Test match against Australia for 15 years. Pakistan went to face an average Australian team in 2009-10 and came back winless. Pakistani players continued to call the Australians their role models, and continued to talk about them in revered tones even after the Aussies became vincible.

Imran Khan, the purveyor of all that is true, spent two decades telling us how everything in our system was wrong, and how the Australian way was perfect. For Pakistani fans, these Australians were an alien race brought to this world to torment our heroes while providing a different, more successful (if not aesthetically better) way of doing things. People you could follow and fear.

And now they are being embarrassed by England! Possibly a worse England team than the one Pakistan clean-swept 18 months ago. If all goes to plan, Pakistan will enter the "home" series against South Africa ranked fourth in the world. Leapfrogging Australia in the rankings would once have been cause for celebration; now there's sympathy, for no one understands what the Aussies are going through better than Pakistan.

In fact, it wouldn't be a stretch to say they are becoming Pakistan.

The bowling unit continues to keep the team in the game and puts its heart and body on the line every time, even as the batsmen fail to give them the slightest bit of solace. The sacking of a coach mere weeks before a major event added to the belief that the presence and knowhow of past greats would somehow make the current lot better.

Pointing fingers in every direction without understanding any of the problems. Finding a vision to follow (the Argus report) and then abandoning it as soon as there are problems. Decrying the state of the system as ill-equipped to produce Test cricketers. These are all more Pakistani than hating India.

Even the composition of Australia's team has Pakistani aspects to it. They went through a few years (2007-11) when a decline in their bowling and their team overall was counteracted by a still formidable middle order - much like Pakistan had been under Bob Woolmer and Inzamam-ul-Haq. This was followed by the emergence of young quicks, but the retirement/removal of much of that formidable middle order (for Ponting and Hussey, read Inzi, Yousuf and Younis; the latter for 14 months). Of course, in Pakistan both the decline and the removals were a little extreme; but everything is extreme in Pakistan.

The current teams have their similarities too. Their captains are forced to play at No. 4, though they would prefer to play at No. 5, crippled by the burden of knowing that when they fall, the castle falls. Each has an allrounder who has spent years being an unfulfilled promise, and has only had success in the shorter formats, but continues to believe he is a Test opener despite all evidence to the contrary. Both have a bunch of young talented pacers and no one to guide them.

And then there's Ashton Agar. We were told that Australia did not allow their seniors to retire in a bunch; there was only one retirement per season, that's how a culture was bred and sustained. We were told that the Australians had an endless supply of top-quality batsmen that the Shield continued to produce. But more than everything else, we were told Australia would never throw in a young kid who wasn't ready.

Australian cricketers made their debuts when their faces looked like a day-five Nagpur pitch (see: Haddin, Brad). They made their debuts only when they had earned it twice over. Now we have Agar: selected as a spinner, he has a record-breaking (and surprising) innings in his first outing and suddenly becomes the marketing man's dream, despite the fact that he is not particularly good at his day job, yet. Now all we have to see is whether he pretends to be 25 a decade from now and we will know that he really is the second coming of Shahid Afridi.

Agar's selection, a reward for promise than of achievement at lower levels, screamed of Pakistan more than a fast bowler being naughty.

Talking of that, Shoaib Akhtar was sent home for hitting Mohammad Asif with a bat; Warner threw a missed punch at an opposition player - that just shows how far Australia still are from emulating Pakistan.

And all of this matters. We know that Australia won't be ordinary for long. That's one of cricket's truths. Since Warwick Armstrong popularised what has become the stereotype of Australia beyond its borders, Australia have never been a bad team for a sustained period. They will recover from this; I'm sure they'll find a way.

So the attention must shift to the Pakistan board and the West Indies board, and to a lesser extent to Sri Lanka Cricket - boards that have allowed their teams to embrace a culture of mediocrity and be satisfied with it. The question is, are these boards watching, taking notes, learning? For when the Australians rise from the ashes, these boards could do worse than mimic them, allow their teams and systems to become imitation phoenixes, and actually succeed in their jobs, for once. Or is that too much to ask for?

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Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, writer and commentator, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. He tweets here

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Posted by   on (July 30, 2013, 4:54 GMT)

Another key thing to be remembered is the gradually rising popularity of other sports in Australia. For eg football/soccer is getting popular. After the Sydney Olympics, Aussies have also become a force in athletics and swimming. As it is the talent pool available to them is small considering their population and out of that a lot of it could be going to other sports. India too needs to guard against this problem. Remember India is among the fastest growing economies in the world. Its GDP growth rate , though recently fallen, is still among the highest in the world. A lot of other sports administrators are eyeing the Indian market. For eg F1 is already there. Similarly a league for badminton is coming up. There is also a growing interest for boxing and weightlifting. Some of the talent coming in to cricket could go to other sports in the near future.

Posted by khiladisher on (July 29, 2013, 21:01 GMT)

@Qaseem Raza -India vs Pakistan since 1989-2013 Test Match Series record

Played Matches- 18 India won- 5 Pakistan -4 Draw-9(Pakistan had great bowlers,but India had greater,superior Batsmen)

One Day Matches- 2006-2013 Played 23- India -16 Pakistan -7

World Cup History(World Cups,Champions Trophy,T20)

Played -10 India- 8 Pakistan - 2 India also winning World Cup 2 times,Asia Cup 5 times and Champions trophy 2 times,T-20 World Cup 1 time and also #1 rank in Tests for 2 years.

Posted by   on (July 29, 2013, 13:51 GMT)

Pakistan will never be a truly great side. World class players yes, but never united enough to consistently perform over a period of ten years or so.The important thing now is to ensure recently retired players have an input in the progression of young players, a home grown coach is essential, obviously of proven world class pedigree himself. In addition, I feel Pakistan needs to send its young talent on more A tours to the likes of England and South africa, for greater exposure in these conditions. All been done before??, yes well keep doing it.

Posted by spinkingKK on (July 29, 2013, 12:53 GMT)

Whatever the results may be so far, I believe that this Australian team is talented enough to compete equally with this English team. I think it is the man management which is causing problems. Australian team became a mess after they were clean swept by the Indians. I can't be sure what is happening. But, one has to point some fingers at the captain when this happens. There was nothing wrong in losing to India in India. However, Australians pressed the panic button too early and ended up losing all the remaining matches in that series. With it, they have messed up the team morale and self-belief. Honestly, Watson, Cowan, Clarke, Hughes, Haddin all are very good players. Then you have a factory of pace bowlers and Warner in the waiting. One thing still missing is the quality spinner (I could have helped if I was fit enough). But, they should make it up by adding more quality pace bowlers. If Aussies get the right advice, they can still bounce back in the series.

Posted by anaikaddu on (July 29, 2013, 12:48 GMT)

Australia also has Simon Katich and Marsh in place of Cowan and Clark who are doing nothing at present

Posted by   on (July 29, 2013, 10:41 GMT)

Missed out the mistakes of Aussie selectors i.e. dropping proper batsmen like Simon Katich,Peter Forrest,Marcus North,Callum Ferguson.

Posted by   on (July 29, 2013, 9:10 GMT)

never forget the poor test record of india against pak.India really deaws attention on test tours because of their habit of losing 4-0.

Posted by   on (July 29, 2013, 8:22 GMT)

@AjitRaje you're just mistaken bro. India never drew attention in test cricket. Later lost test series to England on their soil. Not to be forgotten, how they were humiliated in alien conditions to them. Apart from them, statistics tell that India has worse WIN/LOSS ratio in test cricket than West Indies or even SriLanka - ranking seventh overall. (stats.espncricinfo.com/wi/content/records/283877.html). So overestimating India due to their recent achievements in other format of cricket or very specifically T20, then you're just not fair to the cricket.

This article drew much attention. But given the present structure of the Australian Cricket, it's very difficult for them to fight back with this squad. They need massive changes in their team. And the deterioration of their cricket in recent era would take ages to recover.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hassan Cheema
Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, writer and commentator. He writes on cricket and football for various publications and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. He doesn't believe opinions other than his own are valid. @mediagag

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