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Match Analysis

Babar Azam: 'We didn't get the pitch we wanted'

Pakistan captain backs team - and selection - after being swept aside in first Test

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
Babar Azam shakes hands with Ben Stokes after defeat in Rawalpindi  •  AFP/Getty Images

Babar Azam shakes hands with Ben Stokes after defeat in Rawalpindi  •  AFP/Getty Images

Babar Azam added his name to the growing number of people to express disillusionment with the Rawalpindi surface in the moments after England's famous win in the fading light. As the fallout from the preparation of the pitch intensifies, the Pakistan captain, speaking at the post-match press conference, said he didn't get the pitch he wanted, and that it inhibited the way Pakistan went about their game.
"We have a lot of input in the pitch, but we didn't get the pitch we wanted," Babar said. "We couldn't execute our plans. We wanted a turning pitch, but perhaps because of the weather and preparation, that sort of wicket couldn't be created.
"We are feeling very disappointed as a team. We had an opportunity to win the match. We were in the match the way we started. The way the batters built partnerships after lunch, we were quite confident. But then back-to-back wickets fell and when the new batters came in they struggled. That put pressure on us, but we need to give credit to England the way they fought and put in a real effort."
Pakistan found themselves in comfortable, if not commanding, positions on a number of occasions across their final innings. When the fourth day drew to a close, Imam-ul-Haq and Saud Shakeel had put on 54 for the third wicket partnership and went in unbeaten overnight, looking in complete control against both seam and spin. On the final day, Pakistan went from the relative luxury of 176 for 3 and 259 to 5 to the poverty of losing their final five wickets for nine runs.
"We're not able to finish well when the opportunity presents itself," Babar said. "When we get close to winning, we make some mistakes and end up failing to finish a game off.
"After tea, when Agha [Salman] and Azhar Ali got out, it became evident things were slipping away. Naseem [Shah] and Mohammad Ali dragged it to the very end, but we shouldn't have left it to the tailenders; our specialist batters should have won it."
Aside from the pitch, Pakistan's team selection was the most contentious issue, with the home side handing out four debut caps and deciding against playing an allrounder. That backfired when Haris Rauf was unavailable to bowl in the second innings, leaving Pakistan a pace bowler light, without the option of a seam-bowling allrounder like Faheem Ashraf to bridge the gap. In addition, Pakistan opted to go for Zahid Mahmood over fellow legspinner Abrar Ahmed, despite the latter enjoying significantly more domestic success this season, a decision made to reward Zahid's greater experience travelling with the team.
Babar, however, was unwavering in his support for the team Pakistan put out, and unwilling to accept criticism of the implications it had for either balance or experience.
"In our view we played the best XI. I'm happy with the XI we selected. We planned for this match and played the best XI we had. I don't have any regrets with selection. Every side has its own way and ours is different. You can't change your style suddenly and start playing the way the other side is playing. You have to play according to the situation, when to attack and when to defend. Everyone has their own plans and we try according to our plans. We planned to win. This wasn't a match to draw, but a match to win. It was in our hands, after all."
Even England's teatime declaration on day four, which seemed to have taken everyone by surprise, appears not to have caught Babar off-guard. "We expected them to play such cricket," he said. "They played a similar style during their home series so we knew what to expect. We planned to play a similar brand in some ways but it can get difficult to stop a team scoring at 6.50. We didn't bowl in the right areas at times, and got punished. They took the game away from us in the first innings. In the second innings we bowled on one side of the wicket and got wickets early. But credit goes to the way Joe Root and Harry Brook played in the second innings, because that was outstanding."
He also had warm words for the crowd at the Rawalpindi stadium, which heaved with fans across the weekend, and even on Monday, right until the final moments. That despite the dreary nature of the surface, with little realistic hope of a result until England forced the issue on the penultimate evening. The atmosphere had the air of an intimate gathering rather than a hostile cauldron, with plenty of support for Pakistan and about as much gratitude for England's visit.
"They've given support to both teams," Babar said. "It was packed all five days. When you have a home crowd behind you and show the world that Pakistan cricket is alive and well, and they want other teams to come here too, that feels quite special.
"The Pindi crowd has never disappointed us."
On the merits of Pakistan's performance, though, it would be incredibly generous if the crowd felt the same way about the cricket side they had come to see.

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