Crestfallen Paine confronts batting woes

Haris Sohail takes a catch at first slip to dismiss Shaun Marsh Getty Images

A week after rejoicing in the saving of a Test match they had never been in, Tim Paine's Australians were flattened by the fact they had been beaten out of sight in a game that, at lunch on day one, was theirs for the taking.

Through Nathan Lyon's burst of four wickets in six balls, Pakistan had been 5 for 57 in Abu Dhabi, their plight summed up by the coach Mickey Arthur holding his head in his hands. Yet somehow the captain Sarfraz Ahmed and the debutant Fakhar Zaman wriggled free to help the hosts to a defensible 282, and Australia then collapsed obligingly in both innings.

It meant that two of Australia's four heaviest defeats had taken place in their past three Tests, with Paine at the helm for both. Though this team had made numerous strides since the humiliation of Johannesburg in the wake of the ball tampering scandal, the sense of an opportunity lost hung heavy in Paine's thoughts. He has clearly run the day one lunch break through his mind many times already.

"It's bitterly disappointing no doubt," he said. "We had some momentum from the first Test, started really well here and then from 5 for 57 it went a bit pear-shaped to be honest, all over the field. It's hard to swallow, I'd love to go back to that lunch break and come back out and start again but we just weren't up to it, weren't able to sustain it for long enough.

"It's disappointing. We came here to win this series and we did ok in the first Test and showed at least some fight and the style and brand of cricket we wanted to play in that second innings and then to come out and do that this Test, it's kind of like we've taken one step forward and then two steps back. So it's really frustrating."

Adding to Paine's sense of irritation was the fact that the low quality of Australia's batting, particularly in the first innings of both Tests, reflected a wider pattern, not only for the national team but also the domestic system beneath. Sheffield Shield hundreds have been in dwindling supply for some time, leaving it unsurprising that in their past six Tests, the Australians have averaged a dismal 236 in their first innings, comfortably more than 100 short of the average tally for winning Test matches teams over the history of the long-form.

"There's no doubt this has been happening for too long for the Australian cricket team, not just our Test team but probably domestically, there's a lot of collapses throughout our batting group," Paine said. "A lot of it can be technical, some guys will be mental and other guys will be tactical or your plans not being right for certain bowlers. There's no shying away from the fact we've got a hell of a lot of work to do with our batting, and that's not just this team, it's throughout the whole country.

"Guys that are testing our defence for long enough, whether that's spin or medium pace or quick bowlers are getting rewards, and I think teams around the world are probably recognising that and knowing if they can just keep at us, keep at us, keep at us, these collapses are happening.

"When you give them a bit of a sniff of that, they're always in the game and they always feel like they're not far away. So great Australian teams of the past have been completely the opposite of that, it's hard to get players out, then the next guy comes in and it starts all over again. We know as a batting group and as a team we're certainly a long way off the finished product, and we've got some work to do."

Asked to identify where improvement must be found ahead of the home Test series against India, Paine homed in once more on Australia's batting. "We keep having these collapses and we keep talking about it," he said. "I thought the fight we showed in the second innings of the first Test was outstanding and I thought the guys applied themselves really well and actually showed themselves and people around the world that when we do play our best we are up to it. But it's just at the moment there's a really big gap between our best and our worst and we need to become more consistent.

"I don't know what the stats are but they don't lie. It'd be interesting to have a look at. Certainly within our Test team we're not scoring the 100s that Test teams should be scoring, and past Australian teams have. It's something that the guys are working so hard at doing, and we're seeing small glimpses of it at times, but it's just being able to repeat that and bat for a long time, and put bowling attacks back under pressure, and we haven't been able to do it.

"Some guys will have different issues to other guys, but it's about finding what works for you and being able to be strong mentally to stick to it when we're under pressure in test cricket. Everyone that's played out in this Test team we know is a very good player when they're playing well, we've just got to be able to take it out onto the Test arena when guys like Yasir [Shah] and Mohammad [Abbas] are coming at us and have belief in your plans. If you get through them for an hour or so then they get tired, you get bad balls. At the moment we have not been able to get through those challenging periods."

For Paine and the rest of the touring team some more challenging periods lie ahead before the next Test in Adelaide in December. The Twenty20 squad remains in the UAE, the as yet unannounced ODI squad warms up for a series against South Africa, and the rest have numerous rounds of the Sheffield Shield before reconvening - provided they are selected.

"Clearly it'd be a pretty exciting time to be a batsman around Shield cricket at the moment if you're scoring hundreds," Paine said. "There's no doubt about that. There's opportunity for everyone and the batting group that are here are also a part of that."