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Match Analysis

Pakistan were eager to learn from Australia, but ignored one key lesson

Imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, but the home side missed the bit about seizing the moment

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
25-Mar-2022
Pat Cummins and Babar Azam greet each other after Australia won the series against Pakistan, Pakistan vs Australia, 3rd Test, Lahore, 5th day, March 25, 2022

Pat Cummins and Babar Azam led teams that displayed contrasting mindsets through the three-Test series  •  AFP/Getty Images

It began before that controversial dismissal of Azhar Ali after a resilient opening session in Lahore, on the final day of this Test series. It began before the third-day collapse, the worst-ever five-wicket capitulation in Pakistan's Test history. It began before the third Test began, before Pakistan conceded a 408-run lead in Karachi, before this landmark home Test series against Australia even kicked off.
The wheels of Australia's first Test series win in Asia for a decade were greased several months earlier; the actual cricket merely confirmed what became increasingly apparent as the series wore on.
When Ramiz Raja became PCB chairman in September 2021, he immediately appointed Matthew Hayden, an Australian with no prior elite coaching experience, as Pakistan's batting coach for the T20 World Cup. A few months on, Ramiz said he wouldn't rest until Pakistan beat Australia in Australia. He told ESPNcricinfo last month Pakistan couldn't afford to play into the hands of the Australians by preparing spicy pitches, going on to say "This is Australia, not South Africa or Sri Lanka", two sides Pakistan have recently played against - and beaten - in Test series at home.
Australia may be very good, but since the start of 2008, and before this series, they had won three out of their 28 Tests in Asia, losing 17. (South Africa, whom Ramiz had slightly sneeringly dismissed, won six of 26 in the same period, losing 13).
But Pakistan's obsession with everything about Australian cricket - their mentality, their fitness, their aggression, their first-class structure - has almost bordered on the creepy for some time now. Imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, but don't be surprised when placing someone on a pedestal creates an inferiority complex. So when Australia actually did turn up, any development that threw Pakistan's plans out of sync sent them panicking.
And in Pakistan cricket, a plan that relies on everything being in sync is no plan at all. Faheem Ashraf and Haris Rauf became unavailable the day before the first Test, spooking Pakistan so much they effectively scratched off the first Test, preparing a surface that produced crushingly soporific cricket. Bizarrely, Ramiz prepared a video statement the day after the Test ended, defending the decision to put out a pitch like that, while claiming that Pakistani pitches had been substandard for some time anyway.
The first day of the following Test in Karachi, a ground Pakistan have been so dominant at they've lost just two of 44 Test matches, Pakistan were so spooked by Australia's run rate that Babar Azam opted against putting on the fast bowlers in search of reverse-swing after tea.
Instead, Nauman Ali and Sajid Khan operated unbroken for 22 overs, and when they were finally replaced, Azhar and Babar came on to bowl rather than the quicks. It helped Australia pile on a total that yielded a 408-run lead, forcing Pakistan to block out nearly 172 overs to escape their former fortress with a draw. Hopes that Pakistan might try and attack the target were briefly raised, but Babar admitted it was never a possibility Pakistan seriously considered.
Ramiz produced another video; it wasn't quite clear why, but he felt adamant the great escape provided Pakistan a "big boost" for the final Test. By now, though, Pakistan were unsure whether to stick or twist, and failed to appreciate the value of balancing their middle order. Australia had resolved the problem of sneaking in an extra bowler by demoting Josh Hazlewood to the bench; they did not tinker with allrounder Cameron Green. Despite Pakistan's seeming conviction that Australian cricket can do little wrong, this was an occasion where Pakistan refused to learn from Australia's experience, and dumped Faheem Ashraf when they wanted to bring in Naseem Shah.
While the outpouring of goodwill between the two sides has left this series slightly bereft of the edge that so distinguishes Australia, it did not blur the visitors' clarity of thought. On the fourth day in Lahore, after Australia had exploited the long tail Pakistan had inflicted upon themselves, it was down to Pat Cummins' side to move the game forward once more with a declaration that kept his side in the hunt for a series win. It came so early it seemed to take even Pakistan by surprise. (The home side, for context, never declared at all in Rawalpindi on the final day, preferring instead to rack up 252 without loss rather than give themselves - and Australia - the faintest glimmer.) There were 121 overs still left in the game; Pakistan needed just 2.90 per over to snatch a series win themselves.
Neither Cummins nor his side seemed particularly worried about that possibility; Usman Khawaja was especially dismissive of Pakistan's chances overnight despite Imam-ul-Haq and Abdullah Shafique's promising opening stand. "Personally, I think we declared at the right time," he said after day four. "I'm always of the belief that you want to leave yourself more time and not run out of time rather than trying to be too worried about them scoring the runs. [We're] not too worried about Pakistan chasing the total."
For 14 days Pakistan had given Australia little reason to fear them, offering every indication that if they needed to make a move, it would involve stepping back rather than forward. Aside from that final day in Rawalpindi, Pakistan hadn't once scored more than three runs per over in an innings; there was little chance, Australia felt, of that changing on the most consequential, pressure-laden day of the series. Even on the penultimate day, Pakistan had long given up trying to bowl Australia out, content to wait for a declaration they hoped would come later rather than sooner.
The series might not have been vintage, but the metaphoric resonance of the final day in Lahore was poignant. Australia, given the chance, attacked. Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc exploited the reverse-swing as it arrived, fashionably late, in the warm March Lahore sunshine. Nathan Lyon, enjoying his best day of the series, worked on the rough to land blow after blow to Pakistan's defence.
And it was no more than a defence, really. Pakistan scored 63 in a 33-over first session, each run a welcome byproduct of defensive necessity rather than the result of active pursuit. Like Pindi, like Karachi, Pakistan didn't want to lose to Australia, while Australia didn't want to leave Pakistan empty-handed.
There were plenty of replica shirts from Pakistan's iconic 1992 World Cup campaign on show in the crowd at the Gaddafi. That was little surprise on this final day of the series, coinciding as it did with the 30th anniversary of Pakistan's World Cup final win over England in Australia. As in 1992, Pakistan had been cornered all series. Unlike in that fateful tournament that hangs around Pakistan's necks like both medal and albatross, though, they discovered in Lahore that they had finally run out of road.
Pakistan have now gone three successive Tests without a win in Asia. At least one aspect of learning from Australia is going to plan, after all.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000