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The talent is there in the Pakistan line-up, but if the team is to compete it has to learn very quickly about the demands of Test cricket
Nagraj Gollapudi at Lord's
July 16, 2010
The Shahid Afridi episode is a clear indictment of the state of Pakistan batting. Barring Salman Butt every senior batsman went for the wrong shot exposing a fragile temperament and weak spirit, totally unfit for Test cricket. In contrast to the price every Australian batsman, including their No. 11, put on their wicket the Pakistan counterparts displayed a careless attitude and an ignorance of the occasion.
Chasing a world-record score there were never any pretensions about Pakistan reaching the summit. Still one would have expected to see them grind: batsmen straining every sinew to hang in there, to put a price on the wicket, of not falling for temptations, to show a resolve and thereby highlight the uniqueness of Test cricket. Instead the batsmen showed the same resolve a five-year-old would exercise if you dangled a toffee in front of him - they tried to latch onto it instantly and were sweetly suckered by the Australians, who laughed their way to victory.
It could've been different. The fight that Butt and Azhar Ali displayed raised expectations that Pakistan were willing to finally exercise patience. One way of combating the enemy is to never allow him to gain a foothold and Butt did well to stamp his authority. He took advantage of the numerous innocuous deliveries from Mitchell Johnson who fed his strength outside off stump and was happy to drive and cut with authority.
At the other end the Azhar carried forward the confidence displayed during his brief stay on Wednesday, smartly rotating the strike and not allowing Australia to play on his nerves. But for the second time in the match Ben Hilfenhaus, the most consistent pace bowler for Australia, managed to find Azhar's edge with a perfect outswinger. Immediately Azhar shrieked in disappointment and on his way back even apologised to Butt for falling short of his expectations.
However, it was the Butt's dismissal that gave Australia the opening they were looking for. Apart from Simon Katich, Butt was the only other batsman who had conquered the bowling and adapted to the rapidly-changing conditions. He had worked hard with Ijaz Ahmed and Aaqib Javed in the preceding weeks to put his bat in front of the pads and play close the body with a straight, stable and relaxed head. It was working and Butt seemed set to put his name on the batting honours board with a deserving century.
Unfortunately he betrayed his resolve as soon as Ricky Ponting introduced Marcus North half an hour before lunch. It would've been better to have at least a quick look at the new bowler rather than step out against a drifter that looped from down the leg side before Tim Paine came up with some swift glovework behind the stumps. Stunned at his mistake, Butt lingered for a moment in remorse. He couldn't believe what he had done.
More unbelievable was Umar Akmal's premeditated attempt to cut North in the final over before lunch. To his surprise the ball bounced more than expected and Umar guided a top edge into the hands of slip. Umar had done well to charge North in the preceding overs to hit some handsome lofted drives, including a straight six, but it was plain foolish to play a risky stroke on the cusp of the break. Umar might be only 20 but had learnt many things in his Test initiation.
After a memorable century in his debut innings in Dunedin last year he walked in after another top order collapse as Pakistan were chasing a tempting 251 for victory. He proved his precocious talent by steeling himself against everything Shane Bond and co. tried to do to unsettle him. He would have done well to remember that innings today when the sun was shining with a placid pitch in front of him.
Afridi, Kamran Akmal and the tail succumbed, putting up a toothless display. The previous evening, Umar Amin, the other debutant for Pakistan, had said the one thing he would like to learn from Katich, the highest run scorer in the match, was to leave more balls alone. Forget Katich, who is an accomplished opening batsman, but that same skill to survive was also shown by the Australian tail of Hilfenhaus and Doug Bollinger, who stitched together a useful 52-run stand for the final wicket on the third afternoon. In contrast Mohammad Aamer, Umar Gul, and Danish Kaneria gave their wickets away.
What Mohammad Yousuf, the former Pakistan captain, said recently about his country's youngsters being more inclined to excel at Twenty20 cricket rings true. In the shorter format it is the instincts that take precedence over the mind. Patience plays a minor role and it's a trait Pakistan's youngsters are woefully short of.
"If you want to play Australia you have to be mentally and physically very strong," Afridi said later with some strain before speaking out loud about why he was not enjoying playing Test cricket. Clearly he is not an ideal example to follow for a youngster wanting to excel in the longer format of the game.
Instead the wise words of Katich are worth heeding. "I've just tried to enjoy each Test match and enjoy winning Test matches, because that's part of our tradition of playing in the baggy green is to win Test matches," he said.
International players always talk about proving their mettle in Test cricket because the demands are unparalleled. Pakistan's young batsmen have a unrivalled talent. What they don't have, and need to learn quickly, is to combine it with sweat, persistence and patience.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at CricinfoFeeds: Nagraj Gollapudi
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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