Pakistan vs Australia: Hosts' Test series win all about Sarfraz Ahmed's leadership, Mohammad Abbas' brilliance

While Sarfraz Ahmed was finally stepping up to what Pakistan demands of its captains, Mohammad Abbas was streets ahead of the rest as he collected 17 wickets on what isn't considered helpful surfaces.

Hassan Cheema, October 20, 2018

In the end, there was parity.

Australia have now won three of their last 26 Tests in Asia. Pakistan have won two of their last 26 Tests in Australia. Every time that Pakistan have gone to Australia, they have been humiliated, not just by the quality of the opposition, but the barbs they have had to take at the end of each sweep. On Pakistan’s last tour Down Under, they lost the first Test by just 39 runs; and scored 443/9 (declared) in the first innings of the second Test before they lost the plot. Yet through that series, they had to hear phrases like "Cricket Australia have got to start saying 'listen if things don’t improve we will stop with the invites.'" Thus, they had been waiting for this series — to return all the favours. And, with the exception of the final day in Dubai, they have dominated this series like Misbah and Younis were still part of the XI.

Australia have now played four Tests in the UAE since Pakistan made it their permanent home. They have lost three of them by over 200 runs. In 2014 they arrived in the desert with the bravado brought upon by an Ashes whitewash, defeating South Africa in South Africa and with their recent possession of the Test mace. This time around, they arrived more circumspect, although Josh Hazlewood did say Paksitan were “scared” prior to the series, but the overall vibe was that of a team with their egos in check, and one with the humility to change their game according to the conditions rather than trying to impose their style in a foreign land, as they had done in 2014. The overall scoreline was better, but at no point in the series did it look like Australia had a win in their grasp.

Mohammad Abbas collected 17 wickets in the two Tests to be adjudged 'Player of the Series'. AP

Mohammad Abbas collected 17 wickets in the two Tests to be adjudged 'Player of the Series'. AP

They have positives to take from here obviously. Usman Khawaja finally turning up in Asia is a boost for them, as is the form of Aaron Finch. Nathan Lyon bowled better than his numbers suggest, and they can hope that there will be more repeats of 2017 (when they won a Test on both their tours of India and Bangladesh) with him continuing to bowl as he can, and the return of the two prodigal sons.
But the story is about Pakistan. They had not won a Test series in 18 months (unless you count the one-off Test against Ireland) after winning six of their last 10 series in the MisYou era — even if the final days weren’t as rosy as a Hollywood farewell demands.

Pakistan had even lost their UAE fortress — where they had rebuilt from the ashes of 2010 to the mace in 2016. When Sarfraz went into his first series as captain, against Sri Lanka last year, Pakistan held the longest unbeaten streak at home of all Test-playing nations, despite UAE not really being their home. Prior to Misbah’s takeover, Pakistan had lost more home series' than they had won in the preceding 15 years, so there was some fear that the old man may have been the anomaly and Pakistan were returning to being what they were before him. When Sarfraz made the mistakes that Misbah never made to allow Australia an unlikely draw in the first Test in Dubai, those fears only increased. But the second Test — from the despair of the first morning to the joy of the fourth, on the back of the captain playing better than he ever has — was a return to the MisYou era. Sarfraz was finally stepping up to what Pakistan demands of its captains.

And really, for all that the likes of Bilal Asif and Fakhar Zaman did as debutants in this series, or the continued growth of Babar Azam and Haris Sohail, this series has been about two men. Firstly, the captain, who had been under duress pretty much since the first loss to India in the Asia Cup, but has responded with the bat, with his fields and even his selections and gambles in this series. The Champions Trophy triumph may forever be the high watermark of his tenure, but this series had a greater imprint from him than any before. The fact that it included the return of Hafeez — which he reportedly was in favour of unlike the coach — and the fact that two of the three debutants in this series (Mir Hamza and Fakhar) belong to the same club that he captains back home in Karachi is enough to leave that impression.

But the final word goes to the man of the hour — Mohammad Abbas. Only one Asian bowler had taken as many as 17 wickets in a series in Asia over the course of this decade — which was Umesh Yadav, who picked up 17 in four Tests against Australia last year. Abbas matched that in half the number of matches. The only foreign bowler to have taken more in a series in the continent this decade is Mitchell Starc, whom Abbas completely outshined too.

It wasn’t merely what he did, but how he did it: nine of those wickets were bowled or LBW, another seven were caught by the keeper or the slips. These weren’t cheap wickets, they were earned — he went past the defenses of the Australian batsmen to find his wickets. Only the first of his wickets in the series, Finch caught at silly mid-on, followed the template of “logical and patient plans to induce false shots” that has been the modus operandi of Pakistani pacers here. The rest of his wickets were all about a hunter telling his prey that they weren’t good enough to play him, and then following up on that threat. Eight of his 10 wickets against right handers were bowled or LBW; six of his seven left-handed victims were caught by the keeper or the slips.

Australia knew what he was going to do — there would be the big in-dipper to the right hander (moving away from the left hander) that they had to be wary of, but repeatedly that was their undoing. Whether it was the old ball or the new (or the second new ball) it followed the same pattern — Abbas would bowl in the channel, moving the ball both ways only slightly and then throw in the in-dipper when he felt like taking a wicket, and almost every time (Dubai fifth day aside), it felt like he did.

So here we are — we live in a world where Pakistan won a series in the UAE on the back of a medium pacer once derided as the sort of bowler who could only succeed in seam-friendly conditions. And that’s not even worthy of a double-take, such is life with the Pakistan team.

Updated Date: Oct 20, 2018

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