The main non-event
Broadcast over no radio airwaves, discussed beside no office water cooler, meriting only the skimpiest of newspaper sidebars, these past few one-day outings in Arabia have felt like… well, they feel a lot like most of the other times Australia have played Pakistan at cricket.
The week before Christmas 1981 was when Zaheer Abbas chose to decorate the game's least memorable genre with the most memorable of shot-making. Or at least it would have been memorable had more than a bored, redneck handful turned up to see it. The SCG was the venue, stomping ground of Trumper and Kippax, and Zaheer essayed off-drives, cover-drives and the latest of late cuts. One-hundred-and-eight he made, with hands so soft that the thwack of ball on bat sounded more like a whisper.
"The greatness of this innings," reported Mike Coward the next morning, "was lost on the crowd of 11,413, who by their ill-timed slow handclapping and name-calling again showed they have no appreciation of the finer points."
Three weeks later, on a Saturday in Melbourne, came the glittering sequel. The outfield was beachy. The pitch was the colour of old broccoli and sported a spoon-shaped slope in the middle. Not one boundary did Zaheer strike. Still he made 84, more than anybody else, at a clip not far off a run a ball.
This being a match versus Pakistan, only 18,000 spectators bothered showing. Next day, a Sunday, the Windies were in town. The caterers ran out of hot dogs as 78,000 flocked. We know nearly by heart the statistics that speak of Australia's distaste for Pakistani soil: how they won not a single first-class game there between 1 December 1959 and 27 September 1998; how on the 1982 tour Rod Marsh watched The Sting 33 times on in-house hotel movie channels to stave off the unbelievable dreariness of the joint. ("The boredom," as Marsh summed it up, "God, the boredom.") Less often remarked on, and perhaps more interesting, is the who-gives-two-hoots shoulder-shrugging that sets in wherever the teams meet, be it there, Arabia or here.
The history of Australia-plays-Pakistan reads like a pretty shabby sort of history. No rich Tied-Test heritage. No old Ashes urn - no tinpot trophy whatsoever. No 90,800 spectators cramming in to see the fourth-last day of an epic five-Test series. No five-Test series at all, in fact, other than in 1983-84, and the board bean-counters and time-servers considered that summer such a colossal blunder that for a long while it looked like Pakistan might never be invited back.
No, the things that tend to jam the brain first when we think of Australia playing Pakistan are Dennis Lillee's flying boot and Javed Miandad's raised palm and bat (witnessed by 2373 WACA-goers). Distant runner-up (seen by 1878) might be Alan Hurst "Mankading" Sikander Bakht, and Sarfraz Nawaz snuffing Andrew Hilditch out handled the ball, all on the same day.
Even the high-gloss moments have failed to half-fill stadiums. Greg Chappell's farewell-to-all-that 182 in Sydney was savoured by only 14,775 - most of whom, judging from the TV cutaways, were extended Chappell family members. In Melbourne in 1978-79, when a rampant Sarfraz left Australia's batsmen looking gormless and nigh-on runless, he attracted neither a decent crowd (3067) nor any kind of friendly agreement.
"An inspirational spell typical of… an intelligent and experienced bowler who knew how to make the most of conditions," adjudged Imran Khan.
"When I realised," scoffed Graham Yallop, "that Sarfraz had captured 7 for 1, I almost fell over. He is an honest trundler."
The truth, we knew, lay somewhere in the middle, and we knew it because sufficient reporters were on hand to tell us so. It has not always been the way. Only two - radio commentator Michael Charlton and Wally Pugh of Australian Associated Press - accompanied 15 Australian cricketers on their month-long 1959 expedition through Dacca, Lahore and Karachi. By the 1982 trip the number had ballooned to three: Coward, Phil Wilkins and AAP's Ross Mullins.
In 2009 with no Tests and a lot of nurdle-and-dash on offer, only AAP's Sam Lienert and Andrew Stevenson of the Sydney Morning Herald are keeping home readers posted. Even that shrewd, graceful and most ever-present of this Australian team's chroniclers, Peter Roebuck, has put away his laptop and his Shakespeares and exclaimed: "A thousand times good night!" So slim are the options that the Age has cleverly hired Dean Jones - yes, the Dean Jones who used to bat for Australia - to pen columns about what beastly bad luck it is that Warney isn't captain. If a stump falls and no one is around to write about it, does it mean Australia must be playing Pakistan?
Many of cricket's princeliest and most unpindownable individuals have hailed from the country Australia dare not play five Test matches against. As a team Pakistan often embody traits Australians like to treasure about themselves: a larrikin spark, a feeling of always being the underdog, a disregard for reputation, a dislike of fuss and convention and formality. In 1981-82, summer of Zaheer's magical double, Wilkins checked with Salim Malik that that was indeed how he spelled his name. A few weeks later, Wilkins noticed the brash batting tyro autographing a bat: Saleem Malik.
"Oh," Malik grinned, "spell it either way." An Australian could not have sounded more knockabout Australian.
We'd kick ourselves for not paying Pakistan closer attention, if only we hadn't been so busy kicking Javed Miandad.
Christian Ryan is a writer based in Melbourne. He is the author of Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket, published in March 2009