March 28, 2014

Missing Pakistan

How has the team fallen off the sporting map so dramatically in a cricket-literate country like Australia?

The 1995-96 Sydney Test: Rashid Latif and Ijaz Ahmed look up at batsman Mark Taylor's skier. Pakistan won the Test by 74 runs but lost the series 2-1 © Getty Images

As ridiculous as it might sound in an era in which cricket is beamed around the world via satellite on an endless loop, I had the nagging feeling of being short-changed this last week. It hit me while I was watching Pakistan's World T20 clash against Australia. Quite absurdly, it was the first time the two sides had played each other in the format in the past two years. In that time it feels like Australia have played more internationals against England than they did in the preceding decade, though I realise my arithmetic might be out slightly.

In Australia, unless you've got satellite TV or a working knowledge of the internet's burgeoning wormholes of "streams", there's a fair chance that you haven't seen a hell of a lot of Pakistan's games in the last five years, a period in which they have toured Australia just once. Though it's fair to say they didn't exactly hold up their end of the bargain in that 2009-10 summer (Pakistan lost every one of their three Tests, five ODIs and one T20 on that trip) it's an unfortunate reflection of cricket's new world order.

Never mind that an entire generation of young Australian fans have barely seen Umar Akmal and Saaed Ajmal show their wares, on a selfish level I just really miss Pakistan tours. It's a product of my own childhood - being weaned onto cricket via Pakistan's one-day international clashes with Australia.

In my own cricket-watching sweet spot between the ages of five and 16, Pakistan toured Australia seven times. At the beginning of that stretch they visited three times in five summers between 1988-89 and 1992-93. It's why when you speak to Australian cricket fans in their thirties and forties about Pakistani cricket, they are much more likely to recall an obscure fact about Qasim Umar, Abdul Qadir, Ijaz Ahmed or Ata-ur-Rehman than they are to tell you much about Shoaib Malik, Ahmed Shehzad or Sohaib Maqsood other than the way they face when they bat, and even then… Pakistan's T20 captain, Mohammad Hafeez, could probably walk through Melbourne's Bourke Street mall without being recognised.

One of the most heartening aspects of the cricket blogosphere is the campaigning many of its key figures do to spread the word of global cricket, and the way they make as much noise as they can to shed light on cricket's developing nations. Watching Pakistan the other night, though, I wondered what hope there was for the real minnows if a cricket nation as rich in history and lore as Pakistan can fall off the sporting map so dramatically in a cricket-literate country like Australia.

Though nostalgia doesn't help that situation, it's at least a small comfort. On that note, here are the three things I most miss about an Australian summer of cricket as it used to be not that long ago, ranked in completely subjective order:

The arrival of a Pakistan squad containing at least two or three players I had never heard of before, players who nevertheless became instant favourites (Zahoor Elahi, anyone?).

The sight of West Indies in creams at Australian Test venues, playing a five-Test series (bonus points if they were actually half-decent, as was the case up until their 1996-97 tour).

The touring side playing actual first-class tour matches against the respective states (okay, I'm getting slightly esoteric now; I realise that's not feasible anymore).


On Sunday night Melbourne time, Pakistan rode the Umar Akmal wave to 191 from their 20 overs, a total that might have looked imposing from a 50-over allotment back when they toured Australia for the 1983-84 Benson and Hedges Cup series. Continuing on that theme, Australia put in the kind of fielding performance that recalled such a bygone era. Then something clicked - Glenn Maxwell and his swivelling, swinging blade, the lasting impression of which was the vague image of a kind of batting Edward Scissorhands. He sliced, slapped and hoofed the Pakistan attack to all corners.

At 2 for 126 in the 12th over, the Aussies seemed to have it in the bag and Pakistan had lost the plot. Bilawal Bhatti had been slammed for 30 from an over and it was all but over. Then something remarkable happened. Shahid Afridi grabbed the ball and not only removed Maxwell but his captain, George Bailey, piling on pressure as he did so. The most unpredictable of all cricket's loose cannons was acting like the mature one out in the middle.

Rudderless and expensive only moments before, the Pakistan attack tightened the screws and made their move. Umar Gul came back from the dead. Bhatti returned as the wickets tumbled, and took two of his own. It was mad and beautiful and the Australians didn't know what had hit them. To be more precise, they didn't know who it was that had hit them.

If you had grown up watching Pakistan's tours of Australia in the '80s and '90s, it was exactly the kind of thing you'd have grown accustomed to, but now it felt strange and new; wonderful even (if you can say that of your home country's abject capitulation). The thing is, though, it was a rare treat and one that won't be repeated often. Not with the way the cricket world is now. In the next five years Australians have a two-month window (December 2016-January 2017) in which they can see Pakistan up close.

Maybe we're lucky that we have so much cricket to watch. Sometimes though, it's not anywhere near enough.

Russell Jackson is a cricket lover who blogs about sports in the present and nostalgic tense for the Guardian and the Wasted Afternoons. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 31, 2014, 18:48 GMT

    for me, the Pakistan team of the 90's and the Australian side of the late nineties to mid 2000's were 2 of the best sides ever to have graced this beautiful game. And particularly, I like to associate the emergence of Australian dominance with Adam Gilchrist. They always had Warne and McGrath and Ponting and Waugh. But it was Gilly for me who made them truly invincible with his batting prowess up the order. Like to call it the Adam Gilchrist era. What a player! Anyway, back to the main topic. The reason Aus Pak matches are so rare nowadays is perhaps due to money talking. the ashes and india tours fetch more money. Which is why we as cricket lovers are deprived of quality cricket.

  • WARRIOR on March 31, 2014, 17:24 GMT

    Saeed Ajmal is unique in many ways. It is hard to read him off the hand or pitch which makes him a really special bowler considering that he is used at the death by Pakistan.That's what is fascinating about Pakistan. They seem to produce these unorthodox talented bowlers all the time. Saqlain Mushtaq was the pioneer of Doosra and Wasim Akram brought reverse swing to International cricket. It is always exciting to see Pakistan bowl but I cannot watch a single over from Indian bowlers. It is so depressing to watch them. Even in this world cup I feel they are lucky or the conditions are just too heavily loaded in their favour.

  • ESPN on March 31, 2014, 17:19 GMT

    Good work russel. We are also missing the clash between aus/pak. Pakistan is the only team in asia which is performing well in every continent just like ausies. Hoping for the best.looking forward for uae series. Again well done russel

  • Constant on March 31, 2014, 15:52 GMT

    Very well written!!! Although I would think that perhaps the formidable side of Aussies made it a one sided affair for sometime. Pakistan came close at times but could never change the fortunes in 15 odd tests. Still loved the battles between the greats of the games. Many of them are now in the hall of fame. That surely tells the spirit of the game!!!

  • WARRIOR on March 31, 2014, 14:05 GMT

    Pakistanis are obsessed with INDIA. They have to transcend this infatuation relating everything bad happening to them with INDIA. They always produced great fast bowlers and spinners and decent batsmen which gave them the right balance to win a great number of matches. They should try to bring their unique breed of cricket in front of the world by playing at neutral venues. I will not mind India playing Pakistan at England or Australia or SA. But after all the vitriolic hatred they have for Indians is just not acceptable to Indians so playing them at Indian venues is out of the question.

  • Dummy4 on March 31, 2014, 13:40 GMT

    Yes its unfortunate that Pakistan are not getting their deserving chance of playing in Australia.

  • Rauf on March 31, 2014, 13:32 GMT

    Excellent article and wonderfully written.

  • Dummy4 on March 31, 2014, 10:54 GMT

    What a wonderful reminder of one of cricket's great rivalries,Dear Ressul thank you for the write up,Pak/Aus cricket sure needs to happen more often for CRICKET sake!!!!!

  • Dummy4 on March 31, 2014, 10:39 GMT

    @karachidude23 , Australians were always under pressur against Pakistan , be it cricket, hockey or Squash. Tough 87 wc SF, raised Austraila, but actually it was 1999 wc Final. and that Langer, Gilchrist Partnership in 360+ 4th inn chase, that shifted the momentume. I feel Pakistan victory in neutral test in England have balance the rivarly again.....Mutual respect only enhanced by Hussy's blitz 2010 or Ajmal's fantastic 1 run over in 2014.

    Thanks writer for having respect for team Pakistan from Australia.

  • Dummy4 on March 31, 2014, 10:37 GMT

    Imran Nazir should be played. . . He is the only T20 World Class Batsman of Pakistan