Before the start of the series, Azhar Ali had told reporters, ‘Teams don’t get blow away here, you have to be consistent for a long time’. Two weeks later, Ali’s words would prove to be spot on. After two Test matches, his much-hyped pace battery had only managed to pick up 13 Australian wickets in 286 overs.
And so by the time the lights were finally turned off at the Adelaide Oval, Pakistan had crashed to consecutive innings defeats and in the process lost the series 2-0.
While the Pakistan bowlers toiled throughout the series, their counterparts defied Ali’s logic by taking wickets in clumps. In Brisbane, the Australian fast bowlers halted Pakistan’s bright beginning by taking five wickets in 73 balls to change the momentum of the innings, the match and the series. In Adelaide, the quicks once again decimated the visitor’s top order by restricting them to 6-89 in 32 overs.
Apart from South Africa and India last year, the Australian pitches have been a graveyard for opposition teams. But such is the quality of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon that they can suddenly spring the dormant 22-yard strip to life. Pakistan seamers were raw, but apart from Shaheen Afridi, all of them failed to be dependable for a sustainable time. They took wickets of no-balls, drifted onto the pads and bowled a yard too short. The fact that Steve Smith, Australia’s No 4 didn’t arrive at the crease after the 100th over summed up Pakistan’s woes.
“To be successful here you need to control the scoring rate. Australia will always come hard at you and if you don’t bowl good line and lengths they are always going to score quickly and then you fall behind the game.” Ali stated after the series.
Australia had managed to score at 3.7 and 4.6 respectively in both Tests. A large part of that was due to David Warner. Adjudged man of the series with 489 runs, Warner’s strong foundation at the top had laid the platform for his fast unit to suffocate the Pakistan batting. But perhaps all, it was the timid manner in which Warner batted that would satisfy coach, Justin Langer.
The fact that Australia scored 580 and 589 respectively without an extensive contribution from Steve Smith was a phenomenal effort. The other bright spot was Marnus Labuschagne. It is fair to say, the Queenslander has locked in the No 3 spot for at least the next 12 months. Justin Langer summed up Labuschagne’s rapid rise by stating ‘he is the most improved batsmen in Australia in the last six months’.
The Australian No 3 finished with two centuries and his rapid development provides the top order plenty of solidarity.
And then there was Mitchell Starc. The left-arm pacer had been told specifically by the coaching staff to concentrate on his accuracy and reduce his economy rate. To achieve the objective, Starc twinged his action by tucking his arm into his body as he loaded up to deliver the ball down the pitch.
The result - 14 wickets at a strike-rate of 32.4 and an economy rate of 3.14 including a best of 6-66. This was the Starc, Australia had missed last summer against India. Not only was he spearheading the attack again, but he was also the leading wicket taker in the series.
Pakistan will go home with a few positives. Babar Azam proved he has the temperament to be a great Test batsman. His century at the Gabba was of the highest calibre against a formidable bowling unit. His 97 in Adelaide was equally classy and there is no doubt he would have gained enormous belief from his sojourn down under.
Mohammad Rizwan showed he belongs to Test cricket and with Asad Shafiq showed there are still plenty of good days in front of him. Collectively, it was a tough examination against an Australian bowling attack that in their backyard is unmatched by any in world cricket.
But if there was extensive learning curve it was for the likes of Muhammad Musa, Naseen Shah and to an extent Shaheen Afridi. All three are still teenagers and have plenty of time on their hands, but they should take note that it is simply not about bowling one or two magic balls. Test cricket is about consistency and hitting the right length time after time. Hopefully, by the time they return to these shores all of them will be far superior in all aspects.
Pakistan have now lost 14 consecutive Tests in Australia. They have competed at various stages, but as Azhar Ali said before the series – you have to be consistent for a long time, that they simply failed to achieve. A two-nil series win means Australia are now sitting second on the World Test Championship table.
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