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'When you take a chance with youth, it takes time' - Babar feels lack of experience hurt Pakistan

"With new players, it's different because when the opposition attacks them, it places a sharper kind of pressure on them"

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
""You need experience in Test cricket, and our experienced players were either unfit or not in form"  •  Getty Images

""You need experience in Test cricket, and our experienced players were either unfit or not in form"  •  Getty Images

Inexperience. That was the word Babar Azam kept returning to. In the wake of Pakistan's fourth successive home Test defeat, and a 3-0 home series defeat - both unprecedented.
"There have been several debutants this series," Babar said. "You need experience in Test cricket, and our experienced players were either unfit or not in form. Our team was young, with Azhar Ali the only experienced player. When you take a chance with youth, it takes time. You can't change everything in a day or a week.
"I'll try and back the new boys we have, give it a bit of time before we see where we stand. Saud [Shakeel], Agha [Salman], Abrar [Ahmed], [Mohammad] Wasim Jnr have come in, while Faheem [Ashraf] is in and out, and Shan [Masood] has just made a comeback. It's a new team, so the greater chance you give them and the more you build this side, the team will improve. But you'd have to play them consistently."
Pakistan handed out six Test debuts - Haris Rauf, Mohammad Ali, Shakeel and Zahid Mahmood in the first Test, Abrar in the second, and Wasim in the last one - this series. And there was a significant gap in the experience between the conquering visitors and the vanquished hosts. For Pakistan, the players who took part this series had played a combined 254 Test matches before it began; for England, that number was 531. Just James Anderson and Joe Root together have played more Test matches than the Pakistan side put together.
"There have been difficult times this series," Babar said. "With new players, it's different because when the opposition attacks them, it places a sharper kind of pressure on them. It takes time to get used to that. We'll try and look after our quicks better because there are back-to-back series and the [ODI] World Cup is coming up, so we'll have to plan with a view to that."
There were moments - albeit fleeting - when Pakistan were in respectable, if not commanding, positions this series. In each of the first two Tests, Pakistan found themselves needing 85 runs or fewer to win with half their wickets intact. But, in a theme England exploited effectively all series, there were batting collapses, and the opportunities went up in smoke. It's an extension of a problem that has beleaguered Pakistan all year. Just this series alone, Pakistan lost their last five wickets in their final innings for 9 and 38 runs in Rawalpindi and in Multan, respectively, and their last seven for 52 in Karachi.
"It's disappointing as a captain that we didn't apply ourselves," Babar said. "The way England played needs to be appreciated. When things were in our hands, there were soft dismissals, and we couldn't win these matches. Our strength was our batting because our bowling was under-strength. We tried to dominate with our batting, and we played well in patches, but we couldn't quite finish it off.
"It was the same pitch for both teams. We can tell the curator we need a particular type of pitch. We dominated in Multan, when Abrar got 11 wickets. So there was an advantage, but we lacked in the batting. There were patches when we put England on the back foot but we kept losing wickets and that builds up pressure. It's something we need to work on."
Injuries to three frontline Pakistan fast bowlers hampered them big time. Shaheen Afridi was ruled out before the start of the series, while Naseem Shah and Rauf played the first Test, only to be ruled out for the next two. The Pakistan management is understood to be less than convinced about Hasan Ali and Mohammad Abbas' fitness for five-day cricket, which is why they were not considered despite Pakistan fielding an attack in which every other fast bowler made their debuts this series.
"We were unfortunate that our fast bowlers weren't fit," Babar said. "When new fast bowlers come in, it's difficult, especially when England play the way they do because they don't let Pakistan settle. You need the kind of bowlers who get you 20 wickets. If you don't, you won't win. There's so much back-to-back cricket, you have to be ready all the time. Fitness becomes ultra-important, because if you aren't perfectly fit you won't be able to play all three [Tests]. These days you only get two or three days to switch formats and you have to be mentally ready too. A lot of things happened together at the same time."
Babar's captaincy has come under increasing scrutiny this series, particularly around the management of his bowling resources during games. However, it hasn't hindered his own form with the bat. Over the three Tests, he was the highest run-scorer for Pakistan, with 348; no Pakistan batter bettered either his average (58) or his strike rate of 68.91. He scored a hundred and three half-centuries, though in a batting line-up where just about everyone else struggles for form, Pakistan would have benefitted from a superior conversion rate. It illustrates, perhaps, how deeply Pakistan rely on their captain's batting, and the weight of responsibility on the shoulders of a man who captains his side in all three formats.
"I enjoy the pressure, it doesn't affect my batting," he said. "It's an honour to captain Pakistan, and I give my best for myself and for my country. That's my motive and aim. The team lost, and I'll be the one to front up and take responsibility. It's not about the way you play, it's about results. If you don't get results you'll get criticised no matter what.
"A defeat like this hurts. We had one or two matches under our control, but we lost them. If we'd won those, this would be a different scenario. As a professional, you'll have to accept these things. But you have to credit England the way they have dominated, and the different way they have played their cricket. There were lots of positives, too, which we'll try to continue. We'll need to assess where we lacked, and do the best for the team."

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