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Pakistan played better than Australia, says Mohammad Hafeez

Team director rues mistakes with bat, ball and in the field that cost Pakistan a rare Test win in Australia

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
Mir Hamza is pumped up after taking out David Warner, Australia vs Pakistan, 2nd Test, MCG, December 28, 2023

Pakistan were impressive in Melbourne but did not help themselves by conceding 52 extras in Australia's first innings  •  Getty Images

An emotionally charged Mohammad Hafeez declared Pakistan were "the better team" shortly after they succumbed to a 79-run defeat in the second Test against Australia at the MCG.
In an enthralling contest, where Australia could never truly put distance between themselves and the visitors until the final half hour, Pakistan edged towards the target of 317 thanks to a partnership between Salman Ali Agha and Mohammad Rizwan. They needed 98 to win with five wickets in hand, but once Rizwan fell, the last five wickets were lost for 18 runs in 40 balls.
"We played better cricket as a team," Hafeez, the Pakistan team director, said. "I'm proud of that. The way the team had the courage to attack this game in the best possible way. If I sum up the game, the Pakistan team played better than the other team in general. Our batting intent was better, and while bowling, we were hitting the right areas. Yes, we made some mistakes that cost us the game but as a team I believe that there were a lot of positives, enough to win the game but unfortunately at the end we didn't win the game."
Pakistan were left to rue plenty of their own mistakes, as Hafeez alluded to. Most notable of those were two easy dropped catches - one in each innings - by Abdullah Shafique at first slip. Each of those mistakes were punished heavily, with David Warner adding 84 with Usman Khawaja for the opening partnership in the first session after he was dropped on 2.
In the second innings, Shafique dropped Mitchell Marsh off Aamer Jamal when Pakistan had Australia on the ropes at 46 for 4. Marsh scored 76 more, and his partnership with Steve Smith grew by another 123 runs, before he fell for 96.
"We saw Abdullah wasn't feeling comfortable out there," Hafeez said. "As a team, you always back your team-mates if something is not going well for them. But we made this decision thinking if he's not feeling comfortable, Babar is a better slip fielder, so why not make the change? He should take the lead and go to first slip. I think that also worked out very well for me as a director because I could see the right person was doing that job. Obviously, Abdullah is also a good fielder, but he wasn't feeling confident in the slips.
"These guys have been training together for the last year. [Abdullah] did a very good job as a slip fielder. Fielding here in different conditions might have disturbed him but I still believe that he's a good fielder. Maybe the confidence went away which, as a slip fielder, can happen. Once that confidence goes away from you, you need a little bit of time away from the role."
Pakistan also conceded 52 extras in the first innings through wayward bowling and in a game where Australia's first-innings lead was 54, it mattered. Pakistan's red-ball affliction of losing wickets in a heap also continued to trouble them, particularly in the first innings when they lost 5 for 46 runs from a fairly assured position.
"This game, we were very close but we couldn't win. We made some mistakes, conceding 52 extras which really hurt us," Hafeez said. "And then crumbling from 124 for 1 to lose five main batters, that was a crucial moment we couldn't win in the game. And then Australia were 16 for 4, we dropped a couple of catches that should have been taken.
"If we had taken our chances and won those crucial moments, perhaps this match would have ended earlier and we would have won. But this is the way the game goes; if you make a mistake this game can hurt you."
That hurt was evident on Hafeez's face, because he knows it was Pakistan's best chance since Sydney 2010 to end a 28-year wait for a Test win in Australia. Despite all the mistakes they made, and some key marginal umpire's calls that went Australia's way, Pakistan were in a better position on the evening of the fourth day than they perhaps had been all Test. That they were only 79 short in a game where they made so many unforced errors will make this a bitter defeat to swallow.
"I would like to congratulate Australia on a series win, because for sure they played good cricket. But as a team, I'm really proud of the fact that the Pakistan team showed great courage and great intent, and played with great passion to win the game. And I'm really proud of them."
But it was the Australian captain and Player of the Match Pat Cummins who summed up why the events of the past few days hurt Hafeez - and Pakistan - to this extent. In his trademark, tactful style, Cummins implied strongly that he disagreed with Hafeez's assessment of Pakistan being the better side.
"Cool," he whispered tersely, when told what Hafeez had said."Yeah, they played well, but glad we got the win. Doesn't really matter, does it? [if they were the better team]. It matters who wins at the end."

Danyal Rasool is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @Danny61000