Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent
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Pakistan are set to have a ready-made Australian pitch installed at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, and the one at the National Stadium in Karachi next year. The PCB has ordered the two drop-in pitches in a bid to simulate Australian pitches and better prepare their players for overseas tours.
Pakistan have never won a Test series in Australia, and haven't had a great record in the country in other formats either. They've lost all three completed T20Is against Australia, and though they've done better in ODIs, the last time they won an ODI series in Australia was back in 2002, with an overall win-loss record of 17-37.
"Pitches are one of the more significant aspects in developing a cricketer," PCB Chairman Ramiz Raja told ESPNcricinfo. "This wasn't given enough importance in the past, but for me as a cricketer and now a PCB chairman, its painful to see that it wasn't given its due. Neither was it devised properly. It's really an important element, and when I say I want to reset the GPS of Pakistan cricket it's basically fixing the core of our cricket. And until pitches are not fixed, we aren't going anywhere as it's the heartbeat of cricket."
Historically, Pakistan's batters have struggled on bouncy tracks, and victories overseas have been sparse, particularly in Australia and in South Africa. Pakistan have won just four Tests out of 37 played in Australia, while losing 26. In South Africa, they have won two out of 15 Tests, with 12 losses.
Since the turn of the century, neither Pakistan's batters nor their bowlers have shone in Australia. While the batters average 30.28 - well short of the likes of India, South Africa and England, the bowlers have had it even worse. Pakistan's bowling average in Australia since the turn of the century is 54.42 - only Zimbabwe and Bangladesh have done worse.
Pakistan batting in Australia since 2000•ESPNcricinfo Ltd
Part of the reason for the investment is Raja's belief that the presence of high-profile coaches and a great backroom staff does not guarantee success. Between Mickey Arthur and Misbah ul Haq's tenures as head coaches, the PCB is believed to have spent PKR 60 crore per year on support staff with the national setup, but the team only won in West Indies, Ireland and Zimbabwe, and lost its series' in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.
"We lost 14 straight Test matches in Australia, we haven't won a single Test series there, we get thrashed, and never really offer enough fight," Raja said. "So with these pitches at two centres, we at least start preparing right and being competitive. We need to think out of the box and aspire to produce 180 degree players. Now, the T20 World Cup is in Australia, and to replicate the conditions we need to inject the drop-in pitches. This is an investment on generations.
"In hockey we are left behind just because we never adapted in time from grass to astro. The transition had to be on time but until we realised we weren't able to catch up and now we are nowhere near the best teams in the world. But in cricket, I want our cricketers to be challenged at the age-group (level) and prepare for any conditions. The team becomes great only by winning overseas, and that is the purpose and exercise. This (drop-in pitches) might not be a 100 percent solution but we are trying to prepare and be competitive in Australian conditions. We just saw Australia coming all the way in the Middle East, adapting well, and winning the T20 World Cup in conditions where we were supposed to make a difference."
Pakistan bowling in Australia since 2000•ESPNcricinfo Ltd
To import the drop-in pitches, PCB has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with investment company Arif Habib Group, who will be bearing the expense of PKR 37 crore in the procurement. The drop-in pitches were originally made for venues in Australia and New Zealand where the stadiums are multi-sport ones. A portable turf was installed for cricket. However, in Pakistan, the PCB owns its cricket stadiums either through a lease, or as the direct owner. Cricket is the only sport played at those venues, and all stadiums are maintained by the PCB.
Raja admitted that the drop-in pitches were a "quick, short-term solution" ahead of the T20 World Cup, as preparing pitches to mimic those found in foreign conditions is a longer-term and more complex job. "But we have a plan to expand it further by having soil and 30 hybrid pitches at club level," Raja said.