The crew that was thoroughly outclassed
Pakistan were never expected to win this series, but there is little doubt that they were thoroughly outclassed by a much better side. The margin of defeat at Perth probably wasn't an accurate reflection of the gap in quality, but the nature of the defeats at Melbourne and Sydney probably were. Nevertheless, they improved throughout the series to some extent and, if most of the senior players disappointed, at least three or four young players impressed and developed through the series. Here we sum their performances:
The standout performer for Pakistan throughout the series. Before it began, he had been identified as a potential threat in the attack; by the end, he was manfully leading it. Statistically he was impressive; he took more wickets than Shane Warne and bowled just short of 150 overs. But bare figures will never reveal his bravery, his indefatigable attempts to be both stock and strike bowler. Above all, they will never tell you that his spirit remained unconquerable. He took a fearful bashing from Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting at Sydney, but never stopped fishing for a wicket and ultimately ended with seven. At times he probably tried too much, but when you can bowl a googly as well as he does, it isn't entirely surprising. Pakistan expects, India awaits.
Don't even whisper it, just ask yourself quietly: Has Pakistan discovered an opener? Like so many others before him, he has the talent and the strokes. At Melbourne and Sydney, and even in Perth briefly, he unveiled a delicious array of off-side drives, cuts, as well as a unique flick through point. His wrists seemingly share a lineage with Saeed Anwar, although his leg-side game hasn't developed to the same level. But he may possess - with Bob Woolmer's guidance and a usually sensible head - two crucial ingredients that his predecessors didn't. Sure, he got out a couple of times when he shouldn't have, but he was unbowed against the best bowlers in the world. And that can't be a bad thing.
It threatens to rank alongside JFK's assassination as far as mysteries are concerned: Why has Asim Kamal not become a regular middle-order batsman for Pakistan yet? His fifty at Sydney was a signature knock: adverse circumstances, only the lower order left for company, gritty, composed and unfussed. Moreover it was his fourth in six Tests, against three different countries. In a batting line as wishy-washy as Pakistan's, his continued exclusion remains a travesty.
An odd series, but maybe in keeping with his career. He was reassuring, intelligent and defiant mostly, and at least once, during his 87 at Melbourne, he suggested that he has the aggression to change a game. But maddeningly and frustratingly, on every occasion, he failed to finish what he started, throwing his wicket away mostly, and succumbing to good balls occasionally. It was the central dilemma of Younis in this series, as it has been during his career and it continues to prevent him from becoming a very good international batsman.
Apart from a dropped catch - a skier he shouldn't have gone for off Hayden at Melbourne - Akmal rarely looked anything but a natural behind the stumps. He kept beautifully to Kaneria, especially at Sydney, and more than efficiently to the pace of Akhtar and Sami. He showed glimpses, nothing more, in two brief fighting knocks, of his batting ability but it must be worked on. Ultimately, he fit in so smoothly behind the stumps that to look back to Moin Khan or even Rashid Latif now, other than as back-up, might be ill-advised.
Truly a series of two halves for Akhtar. Up to and including the first innings at Melbourne, he was irrepressible. He cut down a touch, not more, on his pace but increased his intelligence levels by the bundle. He troubled an intimidating top order, but it was the thought he employed to occasionally torment Matthew Hayden and Darren Lehman that really impressed. After that, he was little more than a passenger. He came off a shortened run-up and the one time it was least needed, in Melbourne and in Sydney, he might as well have not played. Concerns about his fitness, length of his run-up and commitment will continue until he can contribute tellingly through an entire series.
It is difficult to say whether two attractive fifties at Sydney constitute an affirmation of quality or a frustrating confirmation of weakness. That Hameed made them against Australia says he can do it in most places and is reassuring. But his continued inability to convert pretty, fluent knocks into considerably larger and crucial ones remains a growing albatross around his neck.
Doubts about his action resurfaced at a crucial time in his career, just when he was cementing his place in both the Test and ODI sides. He was unlucky to miss the first Test, unluckier still to split a webbing when he played at Melbourne. But his second-innings knock with one hand showcased his worth to Pakistan - brave, intelligent and no little talent.
He didn't quite look right in whites but wasn't entirely disgraced in his first Test appearance in over two years. His bowling was ineffective, although he was always willing, and his batting, typical in the first innings was less so in the second. Afridi back in the Test side? Stranger things have happened, and he's usually been behind them.
Ultimately, another poor series for Youhana despite his luminescent century at Melbourne. That knock was Youhana at his rare best; flowing, classical, determined and untroubled. Additionally, he dominated Warne as no Pakistan batsman since Salim Malik had done - and that may be significant for the future. But the rest of his contributions would have done little to dissuade those who feel his best is often reserved for weaker attacks in less pressure situations. His captaincy, after a promising start at Melbourne, became staid and uninspired as the series went on. He is treading water at the moment, and for a senior batsman, that is unacceptable.
His start at Perth promised much. He was quick, accurate and he moved the ball disconcertingly. Thereafter he reverted to as he has been throughout last year - petulant, toothless, thoughtless and lacking discipline. His injury didn't help but his career has been officially stalled.
The jury is still out on whether he can be an effective Test bowler, although his dismissal of Justin Langer at Sydney was a beauty. What you cannot knock him for, however, is his heart; he rarely stops coming at you and inevitably picks up wickets.
He showed good control at Perth and was unlucky not to pick up a wicket early on, when he found some swing and beat the edge a few times. He faded later on, but if Shabbir Ahmed and Umar Gul are fit, he is unlikely to break through soon.
Asif looked out of place as an international bowler on his Test debut, especially when Adam Gilchrist decided to take him to the cleaners at Sydney. But gains marks for his attitude, especially with the bat, where he stuck around long enough to upstage some of the batsmen higher up.
At no stage in any of his four knocks did he suggest that he had the technique to stand up in alien conditions against good bowlers. Does he have the temperament? His awful hook in the second innings at Melbourne suggests not. Last year, he was one of two players to have played in all seven Tests but it looks doubtful whether he'll repeat the feat this year.
Spinach addiction or not, mystery illness or not, the time has come to drop Abdul Razzaq from at least the Test side. Few players, even Pakistanis, have regressed so much in their careers. He has become irrelevant with the ball, has always been a passenger in the field and his batting is still not of a consistently high quality to be keeping out people like Asim Kamal or even Shoaib Malik. That he once promised so much should not afford the situation the benefit of sentiment.
He cut an uninspiring figure in Perth and made a negligible contribution with the bat. His back troubles are becoming more frequent now and that is as predictable as it is worrying.
Osman Samiuddin is a freelance journalist based in Karachi.