Writing in his exclusive blog for PakPassion.net, Fazeer Mohammed offers some good advice to Pakistan cricketers as they begin their much awaited Test series against Australia.
By Fazeer Mohammed (13th December, 2016)
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Australia and Pakistan get their three-Test series underway with both sides’ very recent records pointing in the wrong direction.
A comprehensive victory in the final match of the rubber against South Africa under lights in Adelaide could not mask the general inadequacy of Steve Smith’s team after heavy losses in the first two fixtures gave the Proteas their third consecutive series triumph in a part of the world where it is generally considered extremely difficult for visiting sides to prevail.
That series defeat was preceded by an even more distressing performance in Sri Lanka, where the hosts thrashed Australia in all three Tests in a manner that has become commonplace for the Baggy Greens in Asia. It was bad enough to be hammered away from home, but to follow that up with another series loss in familiar surroundings merely confirms that this Australian side cannot be categorised as a world-beating one.
Unfortunately for Pakistan, they are following a similar downward trajectory since clinching the series against the West Indies in the United Arab Emirates at the end of October, and it will require a tremendous effort by the team, especially the leadership provided by captain Misbah ul Haq and coach Mickey Arthur, to turn the ship around at a venue where the visitors have been winless in four previous attempts, although the last of those encounters was 17 years ago.
It is difficult to avoid the belief that much of the Pakistanis’ predicament heading into the three-match contest is of their own making.
During the West Indies’ visit to the UAE, almost from the opening T20 International in Dubai on September 23, there seemed to be an unhealthy preoccupation with the Australian assignment at the end of the year, as if the intervening fixtures against the Caribbean squad and then in New Zealand were mere preliminaries to the great ambition of winning a Test series in Australia for the first time.
Of course the players and technical staff will dismiss any notion that they were taking their eyes off the ball, although the evidence from the third Test in Sharjah onwards appears to tell a very different story.
As well as the West Indies played to earn their first Test win over Pakistan away from home for 26 years, a combination of careless shots, dropped catches and a distinguishable lack of intensity contributed to their demise. It is difficult to imagine the top-order batting looking so vulnerable to the short-pitched bowling of medium-pacer and captain Jason Holder during the first two Tests when the series was very much alive.
Then in New Zealand, where as we were often reminded Pakistan had not lost a Test series for 31 years, they were soundly and comprehensively whipped, the loss of nine wickets in a single session in Hamilton to complete the Black Caps’ 2-0 sweep emphasising just how ill-prepared the team was for that contest, technically and temperamentally.
Such is the congested nature of the international cricket calendar that there is no longer the benefit of two or three first-class matches leading into a Test series away from home, which would be enormously beneficial for teams making a massive transformation in terms of playing conditions from one series to another. So to go into the first Test in Christchurch without any real match practice after the lone warm-up fixture was ruined by rain spelt trouble for Pakistan, and so it proved.
Even the most accomplished cricketers need a bit of time to adapt to unfamiliar circumstances and to see the top-order batting almost clueless to the moving ball in seamer-friendly conditions was hardly surprising.
Has there been enough time and more importantly, enough preparation to put that nightmarish experience across the Tasman Sea behind them and be fully focused on coping with the Australians and the pink ball under the lights of The Gabba? Anyone can say anything, but it is by their performances on the field that the players will provide the definitive response.
One thing is almost guaranteed – there will be no shortage of intensity, either in the form of the actual cricket or the verbal exchanges in between deliveries from both sides. Yet that is where Pakistan can seize a decisive upper hand or capitulate under a barrage of bouncers and backchat.
As much as it is tempting to give the Aussies some of their own medicine and perpetuate this nonsense about “mental disintegration,” it would be far more beneficial and productive for Pakistan’s cricketers to stay focused on the task at hand. That is going to be tough enough without having to come up with an equally sharp or sarcastic response to something uttered by the opposition.
Verbal exchanges are petty distractions from a far more important objective.