Before December 2016 there had been two instances of a team scoring 400 in the first innings of a Test and losing by an innings. In the last three weeks it has happened three times. England lost the last two Tests of their series against India. Now Pakistan have done the same thing in the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne against Australia.
Pakistan's achievement is actually more impressive. They managed to score 443 runs, declare and still lose by an innings in a match that was marred by rain. Quite how they did that will be one of the great modern day mysterious. The Bermuda Triangle has nothing on team Pakistan.
These two sides went into this series in a serious rut. Pakistan had lost three matches in a row having been the number one Test team in the world before that. That number of consecutive losses has now been extended to five, only the second time in Pakistan's history that they have lost five in a row. It could well be six on the bounce after the Sydney Test that starts next week.
Last month Pakistan lost nine wickets in the final session of a Test in New Zealand to stumble to an embarrassing loss when they should have drawn. Two weeks ago they fell 40 runs short of pulling off the highest successful chase in Test history when they had been set 490 to win, but they lost that game because of a terrible first innings — at one point they were 67 for eight before being bowled out for 142 . Now they have lost a Test by an innings when they went into the final day with the opposition just 22 runs in front on first innings. That is quite the catalogue of ineptitude from a hugely talented team.
The issues that Pakistan have faced over the last seven years where cricket at home has been impossible are well-documented. That they made it to the top of the Test rankings at all is remarkable, but this plummet from such heights is just as astonishing.
This is a match that Pakistan should not have lost. And these meek capitulations over the last few months are in stark contrast to the fight and resilience that Misbah-ul-Haq's team have shown over the last five years. They managed what they did in Test cricket by ridding themselves of the some of the more exasperating excesses of Pakistan teams of old. Pakistan being unpredictable is such a well-worn trope that it has become a cliche. But as with all cliches, it is based in fact. Pakistan have gone backwards at a frightening pace since their drawn series against England ended in August.
This team is, by and large, Pakistan's best side. The issue does not appear to be one of talent, rather it is a failure to execute their skills under pressure. In some ways that is a harder problem to fix.
We saw in this game with Azhar Ali’s incredible 205 not out that there is a lot of fight in the hearts of this Pakistan team. Quite why they have had these batting aberrations so often in recent months is a matter for debate. What is clear is that the team are better than this. It is up to them to prove it.
Australia have also lost five matches in a row in 2016, and those loses also came just after they were crowned the number one Test team. Now they have won three consecutive Tests and have claimed a series victory against Pakistan.
After the loss to South Africa in the second Test in Perth in November it was open season on Australia's cricketers as they entered full crisis mode, with the selectors and the media hammering the panic button like enthusiastic toddlers with a new toy. There were debuts for Matt Renshaw, Peter Hanscomb and Nic Maddinson as the selectors attempted to shore up Australia's misfiring batting. And it seems to have worked.
Renshaw's stoic approach up top has taken pressure off the middle-order and Hanscomb is now averaging 83 after his first three Tests. Maddinson has been the lone failure amongst the new boys, and has been left out for the final Test of the series, but the change in personnel seems to have arrested the decline.
It was big hundreds from David Warner and Steve Smith that took Australia up to and beyond Pakistan’s first innings total. but the man that finished off the win was Mitchell Starc who bowled brilliantly on the final day to pick up four for 36. It was Josh Hazlewood that got the opening breakthroughs, but Starc bowling 145kph inswingers, with the ball reversing, is what cleaned up the Pakistan middle and lower-order. The discussions about who is the best all-format pace bowler in world cricket right now are brief. Starc has all of the attributes needed to be an all-time Australian great. If he can stay fit.
Despite making his debut six years ago, this was Starc’s first ever Test at the MCG. Starc has played 33 Tests since that debut in December 2011. In that same period Australia have played 61 Tests. If Australia are to find the sort of consistency that has seen them dominate Test cricket so often in the sport’s history, they need their best bowler playing every game, not rested or recovering from injury.
The final day was as brutal for Australia as it was embarrassing for Pakistan. In 28 overs Australia scored 159 runs as Starc and Smith shared a stand worth 154 runs for the seventh wicket, with the runs coming at almost 5.5 an over. When the declaration came Australia were 181 runs in front with 15 minutes for Pakistan to bat before lunch and then two full sessions to survive. That should have been a simple task. This Melbourne pitch was flat and had not deteriorated. It was just a matter of batting sensibly without going too defensive or playing extravagant shots. Pakistan did both as they crumbled to 163 all out to lose by an innings and 18 runs.
These teams play again in Sydney next week. Australia will feel they have answered the questions that surrounded them at the end of their series against South Africa in the early part of their summer. Pakistan will just be hoping they can get through a whole match without a terrible session that loses them the game.
Updated Date: Dec 30, 2016 18:13:43 IST