Match Analysis

Pakistan and the consequences of fixing what wasn't broken

Once upon a time, only two years ago actually, batting in Rawalpindi was hard work. Now not so much

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
Abdullah Shafique works to leg on his way to a fifty, Pakistan vs England, 1st Test, Rawalpindi, 2nd day, December 2, 2022

This match has seen 838 runs scored for the loss of only ten wickets so far  •  AFP/Getty Images

The razzmatazz of Bazball masks the ennui surfaces like the one in Rawalpindi tend to produce, but by the time Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq were set, no one was under any illusions. There was so little seam movement on offer - even for a master like James Anderson - that England took out a slip as early as the second over. The Barmy Army's morning excitement had given way to afternoon lethargy, and the crowd amused themselves by calling out to boundary fielders until, finally relenting, they ended up waving back.


After half a dozen questions about the pitch on Friday, Ramiz Raja threw his hands up. "I don't know why all of you are padded up and ready, coming after me about the pitch," he exclaimed. "As if everyone here's an international cricketer."
The PCB chairman was speaking to a throng of journalists in the press box at lunch, his back turned to the ground. The scoreboard, had Ramiz cast a sideways glance, would have shown that England had posted 657 in 101 overs, amassed the highest first-day score in history, and become the first side to have four century-makers on the opening day of a Test match. Perhaps it would have gone some way towards clearing up that mystery.
Ramiz's faux confusion might only have been mildly amusing, but the revisionism that would follow was rather more frustrating. Over a number of media engagements through the day, he acknowledged the pitch here was poor, but doubled down on his insistence that this has been a long-running problem in Pakistan cricket.
The most recent Test at this ground before Ramiz took over, though, is where that argument hits a snag. The second Test of Pakistan's series against South Africa produced scores between 200 and 300 in all four innings. It featured early seam movement to the fast bowlers, and when the pitch flattened out, the spinners came into the game, with George Linde and Keshav Maharaj taking eight of the ten wickets in the third innings. By the final day, pace was by far more potent, and Shaheen Afridi and Hasan Ali bagged nine wickets between them as Pakistan secured a famous win.
As Shafique and Imam coasted along to an unbeaten 181-run stand by stumps, it felt scarcely credible that that Test had taken place less than two years ago. More recently, the two had also put on an undefeated 252 on day five against an Australian attack of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon before, recognising the utter pointlessness of it all, the two sides finally shook hands.
At the time, Ramiz, stung by the criticism that had come his way, put out a YouTube video, claiming Pakistan sedated the surface to neutralise the threat of Australia's three-pronged pace attack. Never mind, though, he promised. That was a one-off. England, after all, don't pose the same kind of menace. They even went into the game a bowler light, with Anderson, Ollie Robinson and Jack Leach the only specialists in the XI. The potential for the pace of Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf to prove a point of difference was ripe.
Pakistan cricket might have had 99 problems when Ramiz took over, but the Rawalpindi pitch wasn't one of them. And with every ball that Shafique and Imam kept out, almost appearing to bat on autopilot, the consequences of trying to fix what wasn't broken were thrown into ever sharper relief. Even the promise of drop-in pitches - that mythical search for a silver bullet that always seems just out of reach - has now been rebranded.
Ramiz said the cost of importing the surfaces was prohibitive, but why that wasn't apparent after the most cursory research when the idea was initially floated 15 months ago remains a mystery. Instead, he said, Pakistan would focus on a different kind of drop-in pitch, one that is prepared in Pakistan and can ostensibly shapeshift on command.
"That way, we can prepare square turners or bouncy wickets depending on what we want," he said.
Ramiz also appeared to write off the prospect of any excitement for the entire home season, warning fans to expect similar pitches across all three Tests this series, and the two that follow when New Zealand visit at the end of the month. Nine months earlier, though, he had been rather more upbeat about this season.
"It takes five-six months to prepare pitches, and during the off-season, you will see - soil is coming from Australia; we've experimented, consulted soil experts and prepared soils, and we will redo 50-60 pitches all over Pakistan once our season ends in March-April," he said at the time.
On the evidence of what has transpired over the previous two days, they might have saved themselves the hassle and expense.

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