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Humiliation in the UAE a true sign of Pakistan's willpower

Misbah-Ul-Haq celebrates a century. His captaincy has been tremendous. (AFP PHOTO/ MARWAN NAAMANI)
Roar Rookie
5th November, 2014
10

Imagine this scenario. For five years the Australian cricket team has been forced to play all their ‘home’ matches in, say, Canada.

David Warner is in prison for match-fixing. Mitchell Starc and Peter Siddle are serving lengthy bans, also for match-fixing.

Mitchell Johnson has just been banned indefinitely from cricket for chucking.

Michael Clarke has just dropped himself from the one-day side in the face of rampant criticism. Ricky Ponting is still playing but has been axed from the one-day side and is threatening to retire from all cricket.

And in the midst of this chaos, we have injuries galore and our recent results have been appalling.

This was roughly equivalent to the predicament Pakistan found themselves in just a fortnight ago, before they faced a rampant Australia in a two-test match series.

In desperation, Pakistan threw together a side full of inexperienced youngsters and journeymen of questionable talent. You know what comes next. Total annihilation – but for Australia, not Pakistan.

In 137 years of Test cricket, Australia suffered its largest ever series defeat. Pakistan averaged 80 runs for each wicket, while Australia could only manage 26.

It was a consummate obliteration.

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And it was magnificent to behold. World cricket is so much better when the enigmatic, brilliant, but brittle Pakistanis are playing well. As for Australia, it is simple. When the ball is spinning and reverse swinging we are comically inept, and we are not improving.

Take Michael Clarke’s first innings in the second Test. He was set and batting beautifully when the ball started reversing. In a short space of time he attempted three expansive off drives, only for the ball to wickedly swing in and take his inside edge.

Yet he continued batting as if it were the Adelaide Oval.

With depressing predictability, the next one swung in and took middle stump. Yes, it was a fine delivery, but would it have dismissed Younus Khan?

Our batting ineptitude would be easier to take if our bowlers were capitalising on the conditions. But, inexplicably, the opposite happens. Give Nathan Lyon a low, spinning wicket and he becomes a gentle net bowler.

Lyon’s series figures were 3/422 from 110 overs. To put these in perspective, consider a scenario where Pakistan bat first and Lyon bowls every over from both ends. It would take him until the morning of the fifth day to bowl Pakistan out – for a total of 1407.

Compare this with the performance of Zulfiqar Babar. Coming into the series this 35-year-old with the athleticism of Greg Ritchie had played just two Test matches. Yet he proceeded to savage Australia, taking 14 wickets with his fearsome array of slow, straight balls.

Australia has to improve, or they will continue to lose every series in Asia. But one thing does need to be said in Australia’s defence though.

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Pakistan made no secret of the fact that they instructed the ground staff to prepare extremely low, slow-turning pitches. The commentators universally agreed that this was the right thing for Pakistan to do – and of course it was.

But should it be allowed? Is it in the best interests of world cricket?

Let me be clear, I understand and rejoice in the fact that different conditions prevail in different countries. Australian pitches are bouncy, Asian pitches favour spin, in England the ball nips around, and so on.

These natural conditions confer a legitimate home ground advantage.

Australia is content to leave it at that. Our pitches are prepared by independent curators, whose goal is simply to produce entertaining cricket. But Australia would be entitled to fall into line with what every other country does – take our natural conditions and accentuate them to such an extent they became caricatures of themselves.

Imagine if next time Pakistan toured, Australia produced pitches bouncier than the WACA and greener than a first-morning Gabba. The result would be certain: Pakistan would be thoroughly humiliated.

But what is the point of a sport where the home team is all but assured of victory?

Furthermore, cricket played in extreme conditions is not as enjoyable to watch. For all of the highlights of this series, there were lengthy dull passages of play. Yet if the pitches had been just a fraction bouncier it would have made all the difference. Edges would have carried, the batting would have been more fluent and the fast bowling would have had some zing.

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And Australia would still have been thrashed.

Test cricket needs to do all it can to be entertaining. Allowing home nations to produce pitches simply to help them win, regardless of the impact on the spectacle, is pathetically short-sighted.

And, lest anyone accuse me of being a biased, whinging Aussie: I backed Pakistan in both games and almost found myself cheering them on.