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Pakistan's cricketers left for Australia following a string of upheavals that seem part and parcel of life in their country. A military coup days before their departure not only overthrew the elected, if almost universally unpopular, government; it also detained the newly appointed chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, Mujeeb-ur-Rehman, and replaced the board members with yet another ad hoc committee. The new chairman, Zafar Altaf, had been manager of Pakistan's World Cup team in England.
This was shortly preceded by the reinstatement as captain of Wasim Akram, who had been suspended after the World Cup following allegations of match-fixing. Also reinstated, albeit for a short term, was Richard Pybus, Pakistan's technical coach at the World Cup, who was appointed coach after Wasim Raja had resigned. Pybus lasted a month and a half before being replaced in turn by the former captain and manager, Intikhab Alam, but at least he got to Australia. Shabbir Ahmed, a 23-year-old fast bowler, was withdrawn from the original tour party after the ICC questioned his bowling action. He had been reported by Peter van der Merwe, the tournament referee at Toronto, where he made his one-day international debut in September. Shabbir's place was filled by the experienced Waqar Younis.
There was a particular piquancy in this meeting between two of the world's leading sides. Four and a half months earlier, Steve Waugh's Australians had trounced Pakistan in the embarrassingly one-sided final of the World Cup at Lord's. And beyond that lay the tension provoked by it being a previous Australian team, under Mark Taylor, which made the match-fixing allegations that led to the judicial inquiry into Pakistan cricket.
Waugh could hardly have dared hope for a clean sweep against a side boasting an all-round attack probably without parallel in the contemporary game. Yet, for a variety of reasons, Pakistan's bowlers failed to live up to their promise. There was never room for both spinners, Mushtaq Ahmed and Saqlain Mushtaq, and Shoaib Akhtar was often too carried away by his reputation as the world's fastest bowler to reproduce his form of earlier in the year. Waqar Younis played in only one Test and appeared to be nearing the end of a wonderful international career. We learned that he felt slighted by the way Wasim had overlooked him. He could respect his captain as a cricketer, he said, but not as a leader.
Despite these problems, Pakistan had their moments. They were in with a chance of victory in a rousing First Test until the fourth afternoon, and they should have won the Second. Indeed, they would have but for an epic partnership between the left-handed Western Australian team-mates, Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist, and an umpiring decision that swayed the game Australia's way.
Australia played the series without Jason Gillespie, still recovering from the injury sustained in Sri Lanka in September when he collided with Steve Waugh. In his place they gave two Tests to Queensland's Scott Muller, but he was clearly not up to standard. Certainly not in the opinion of a Channel 9 cameraman, whose "Can't bowl, can't throw" jibe in Hobart, caught on a sound-effects microphone, caused a furore when it was made public during the Perth Test and mistakenly attributed to Shane Warne. By this time, Muller was back in Brisbane, playing against the Indian tourists and twice taking the wicket of Sachin Tendulkar, his Test place claimed by fellow-Queenslander Michael Kasprowicz, back after a year's absence.
Perth proved to be a dreadful anticlimax. One almost has to think the unthinkable and ask whether the WACA ground is a fitting stage for Test cricket. For the third time in four Tests there, the match finished inside three days, and for much of the time there was an unevenness about the contest between bat and ball that did not make for satisfying cricketing entertainment. Yet by the same criteria Hobart, which had also had its critics, offered five gripping days of Test cricket.
Shoaib had special reasons for not thinking kindly of Perth. In a one-day warm-up game there, his bowling action was secretly filmed by a posse of Western Australian umpires and the tape was sent to the Australian Cricket Board. As the game was not under the jurisdiction of the ICC, however, the ACB chose to take no further action and the doubts over the legitimacy of Shoaib's action were widely rubbished as a tasteless whispering campaign. What few people knew at the time was that the series' match referee, John Reid, was sufficiently concerned to have Shoaib filmed in all three Test matches, with the support of the umpires. After the Perth Test, the evidence, suggesting that the fast bowler might sometimes throw his bouncer, was sent to the ICC. By the end of the year he had been banned from playing international cricket - though not for long, it transpired. In a dramatic about-turn, Shoaib was reprieved on the eve of the Carlton & United one-day series.
Australia were faced at the outset with filling the void left by the retirement of Ian Healy, their wicket-keeper in 119 Tests since 1988-89. Healy was accorded a hero's farewell at the First Test in his home city, Brisbane, as he drove around the boundary in an open-top car, and Gilchrist, his successor, came in for some unfavourable comparison from the Queensland locals until they saw the quality of the man with gloves and bat. Langer was under scrutiny for different reasons and was in danger of losing the No. 3 place after a run of poor form up to the Hobart Test. That he responded with back-to-back hundreds said much for his character, and by the end of the series he was something of a celebrity.
Steve Waugh, though averaging only 14.50 with the bat, showed a sure touch throughout his first home series as captain. He created a stir by inserting Pakistan in the first two Tests, and both decisions could have backfired. Instead, it all came up roses. "We believe we can win from any situation, and that is the great asset this team has," he said. Given the quality of players he could call on, he thought Australia were near-invincible at home, and nothing happened all summer to prove him wrong.
Match reports for
ACB Chairman's XI v Pakistanis at Perth (Lilac Hill), Oct 26, 1999
Western Australia v Pakistanis at Perth, Oct 27, 1999
Queensland v Pakistanis at Brisbane, Oct 30-Nov 2, 1999
South Australia v Pakistanis at Adelaide, Nov 12-15, 1999
Australia A v Pakistanis at Perth, Jan 2, 2000
Australia A v Pakistanis at Adelaide, Jan 4, 2000
Queensland v Pakistanis at Brisbane, Jan 6, 2000
Australian Country XI v Pakistanis at Canberra, Jan 12, 2000