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Stats Analysis

In numbers: Pakistan down and under - the bowling's to blame

Pakistan's troubles with the ball down under go back a long time, and it was no different in 2019

What do the numbers say about Yasir Shah, the bowler, in Australia?

Getty Images

It used to be simple. It used to be that Pakistan would go to Australia and it was the batting that would lose them the series, mainly because the top order couldn't cope with the extra bounce and pace.
For the first half of this 20-year run of 14 consecutive Test defeats in Australia, this theory held firm. There were regular sub-300 scores, and a phase across the 1999-00 and 2004-05 tours where Pakistan made 155, 179, 72 and 163 in the span of six innings. There was also Sydney in 2010.
In reality, what that body of batting work has done is mask the real problem: it's the bowling, it's (almost) always been the bowling. Gradually, over the course of the last three tours, that has become crystal clear. Pakistan's bowling on the 2016-17 trip was their worst performance collectively. This trip cannot rank far behind and, in some ways, it's felt even worse.
Five numbers from Pakistan's last 20 years in Australia illustrate, and to a degree explain, just how bad Pakistan's bowlers have been in Australia and how tough they have found it.
That's Pakistan's bowling average in Australia since 1999. It is their worst in any country in that time, by some distance: their next worst is 39.07 in India. Of the top-eight Test sides, only West Indies, who average 52.82, are below them.
But Pakistan's figures across all metrics are terrible. Their bowlers pick up 11.6 wickets per Test (only Sri Lanka and West Indies take fewer); they strike nearly every 14 overs (only Sri Lanka and West Indies are worse); they concede 3.82 runs per over, the most by any side.
The last two decades have not been as glittering for Pakistani pace bowling as the two before. There have been plenty of these bowlers coming through, just none that have lasted.
There's been enough good ones to ensure their collective average in South Africa, England and New Zealand (SEN) - 31.75 - has been the best among subcontinent sides. But pace bowling in Australia is unforgiving. Pitches are truer and rarely offer seam movement; conditions are rarely conducive to swing; immediately a line of Pakistani fast-medium bowlers stands neutralised. The bigger outfields also require peak fitness and Pakistanis haven't been there; think Shoaib Akhtar creaking his way through the 2004-05 series or Sohail Khan and Imran Khan struggling in their return spells in 2016-17.
Result: a pace-bowling average of 48.49 and a difference of -16.74 with the SEN average. That is the largest among the subcontinent sides.
The heyday of reverse swing is long behind Pakistan. Sightings of a serious spell of reverse since Akhtar's departure have been limited, only occasional spells keeping their reputation as pioneers alive.
In Australia, there's been nothing in the last 20 years other than one Mohammad Amir spell at the MCG in 2009-10. Australia isn't a country for reverse swing. Pakistan's fast bowlers average 53.74 with the old ball (between the 21st and 80th overs) there, worse than in any country. So too, damagingly, is their economy rate of 3.78. Forget wickets, Pakistan's fast bowlers have been unable to contain Australia with the old ball.
Throw spin into that equation and it gets worse. Together, Pakistani pacers and spinners average 66.8 runs per wicket with the old ball in Australia, and concede 3.93 runs per over. Both those metrics are the worst for all Test nations in Australia (other than Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, neither of whom have played there enough).
Australia has produced the game's finest legspinners. But it is an unforgiving country for visiting legspinners. Of the ten instances of most runs conceded in an innings by an overseas bowler, six are by Pakistani bowlers and all of them legspinners. Yasir Shah alone has three entries. Note that if you rank this list in terms of the worst economy on those occasions, five of the top six are Pakistanis.
Yasir's record is instructive, as unable to cope with the truer bounce of surfaces as Abdul Qadir was with Australia's lefties. There was a time when Pakistanis used to bemoan how expensive Danish Kaneria's wickets were and his record in Australia across two tours was often the stick used to beat him with. But those figures are Warnesque compared to Yasir's, whose average in Australia of 89.5 is the worst for any overseas bowler with at least ten wickets there. In the same number of Tests, he has half as many wickets as Kaneria (who took 15 in a series against the great Australian side of the early 2000s), at an average more than two times as bad, and he has conceded nearly a whole run per over more.
That is the collective average in Australia of Pakistan's all-time top-ten Test wicket-takers. Think about that list: the two Ws, Imran Khan, Qadir, Mushtaq Ahmed, Akhtar. There's pedigree there, enough so that outside of Australia that average is down to 26.66 and the strike rate is 56.96 (72.27 in Australia).
Every single bowler on that list averages more in Australia than they do outside. Some, like Wasim Akram (barely half a run more) and Mushtaq Ahmed (less than a run more), have records they can be proud of.
Others, like Akhtar (nearly 18 runs more per wicket), Waqar Younis (17 runs more per wicket), Qadir (28 runs more per wicket) and Yasir (three times as much per wicket), understand how difficult Australia is to bowl in. In their records lie the true story of Pakistan's bowling in Australia.
Additional stat inputs from Shiva Jayaraman

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo