Pakistan v Australia, 1st ODI, Dubai April 22, 2009

A welcome win, no doubt

It really didn't matter that Pakistan chased down their target tonight with all the assurance of a one-legged man roller-skating in quicksand with his hands tied behind his back. It only mattered that they chased them down at all, even if at one stage it seemed Misbah-ul-Haq was bent upon wresting his countryman's hold on the longest international innings of all time.

Pakistan are not used to playing against Australia and they are certainly not used to winning against them; this was only a second win in their last 12 ODIs (over nearly seven years) against them. Though not many in this team are scarred by that kind of record, they batted as if that history was firmly on their mind. If this was a weakened, transitional Australia, it was Australia nonetheless and Pakistan can happily point to an absent middle-order bearded wonder and an equally absent lanky fast bowling genius.

But with the added layers of what has happened to Pakistan cricket over the last two months, the broader fate that has befallen them over the last two years, and to a nation seeking cheer as desperately as Susan, it is as welcome as might be a water cooler in the Thar desert. The details don't matter as much as the bigger picture but they are worth noting, if only to sketch an outline over the rest of the series.

Intikhab Alam, Pakistan's coach, had said before the series that spin would be key, but could he have imagined this? The modern Australia have often been limited against spin, struggling against it to score at pace. Johan Botha and several South African spinners played key roles in the two ODI series wins over them this year so Intikhab wasn't talking cheap. Indeed some might even smirk that if South African spinners are troubling you then you really have troubles.

But to crash so haplessly so as to lose eight for 27 at one stage and more significantly, look so utterly bewildered? Shahid Afridi has been one of Pakistan's better ODI bowlers in a unit that has struggled to show bite, conceding 300-plus five times since last June. He forms Pakistan's holding pattern generally: bring down the run-rate during the middle overs, maybe pick up one or two momentum-stifling wickets. He is rarely expected to wreck an entire line-up.

It's difficult to see what he did so differently today to what he has been doing. He did get marked drift and appreciable turn, as he does. He was accurate, as he is. He was generous mixing in his wrong 'uns and the other tidbits, as he always is. The only surprise was that Australia were so poor at playing fare that, among others, Sri Lanka and India have handled with relative comfort.

His collaborator Saeed Ajmal, meanwhile, has quietly gone about doing what is expected of many modern offies. He doesn't give runs up cheaply and it compensates for a lack of guile. His doosra has always spun and he doesn't mind using it, but Australia read him as well as you might expect them to read an Urdu newspaper. If you didn't know about their previous with spin, this could be put down as a freakish glitch. It may yet prove as much, at least in this series.

For now, though, the need isn't for such analysis. For tonight and tomorrow, Pakistan can bask a little in the glow of this win. How significant it might prove cannot yet be told, but much caution must be advised for days ahead. All Australian sides, even this one, have fight in their DNA - they will not let this series slip by just as they didn't this match.

And Pakistan are well-rehearsed in letting slip some good cheer from their grasp. The euphoric win against Sri Lanka in the 2006 Champions Trophy after Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif had been sent back, heralded only a shambolic exit soon after. More recently, they slipped against Sri Lanka at home, having trumped Murali and Mendis first up. Nobody will forget either that they were bowled out for 75 in the last game of that series; in fact their last ODI before this one.

Maybe the struggle to chase tonight is a good thing after all. It will - or it should - keep real the difficulty of the task ahead.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rahil on April 23, 2009, 17:42 GMT

    Well said Osman. Your writing style has shown a marked change - at least to me - based on my recollection of your past columns. The humbling effect the recent events in Pakistan have shown,among other places, in how you have taken on a more pragmatic approach to things. Although, I always thought that you have been less of a "homer" than most other writers from the sub-continent. Half way through the article, I thought I was reading one of Peter English's article. Or an Ozzie writer seemed at work here. Any time you can fool a reader as to the nationality of the author like this, it has to be commended. Enough said about the style. The content of the article is also solid as always has been in your columns. Keep up the good work.


    Rahil Khan

  • Faran on April 23, 2009, 14:37 GMT

    i think spinners will play the decisive role in the series. Tanvir should be brought in for the next game and so do fawad alam. Pak batting seems very fragile but they can play spinners much better than aussies ,i believe paksitan middle order can be more prepared for tomorrows game.

  • Muhammad on April 23, 2009, 14:24 GMT

    I am a great fan of Pakistani cricket team more than 20 years passed away. But last couple of years gone I have been watching the Pakistan cricket management always maintaining just 5 regular bowlers to bowl in any oneday international, very strange ! Other cricket countries almost use atleast 6 bowlers to attack the opposite side of Batsmen. Why Younis Khan not implemented the 6/7 bowlers to use. Younis Khan should not think that the Australians are little bit weak team in this series, if he thinks that with underestimation policy, Younis & his team would have been suffered remaining this running series. And Akmal, Malik & Younis himself have worse habituated tendency to nick the ball outside the offstump. And also Sohail Tanvir must be included in this series with Fawad Alam.

  • Irfan on April 23, 2009, 13:51 GMT

    I don't think that this situation will repeat it self. Meaning Aussie will be more careful batting next time against the spin. Batting first has its advantages however chasing has always suited Pakistan. Criticizing Misbah for slow batting is inappropriate as he was not only getting some batting practice but he was also going with the general pace of the match. If Pak batsman could understand that last night was a tremendous opportunity to gain some batting practice against Aussie bowling (as there was no pressure of a big score) with out forcing the pace they may not have lost so many wickets on the way.

  • Fakhar on April 23, 2009, 9:18 GMT

    The Perfect Recipee to win this series should be "Batting 1st". I don´t want to see Pakistan chasing a target of 260+. But if Pakistan gets to bat 1st, they will not have pressure on them and should put a formidable target. There is good Possibility that they will score somewhere around 270 - 300 runs. Well our bowlers are good enough to defend a total of even 240! A few changes though have to be made for the next ODI.

    1. replace Rao Iftikhar with Tanvir 2. Let Akmal and Butt open and put Fawad Alam at 5/6 Pos.

    Best of luck Pakistan!

  • Qasim on April 23, 2009, 7:24 GMT

    No doubt, Pakistan bowled pretty well last night but they were looking in pressure as they were batting against tight Australian pace attack. I think Pakistan should have to improve their batting if they want to win next games. Suppose if Aussies give a target of 250 in next game then what Pakistani under pressure lineup will do?

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