Majority had predicted it well before even the first ball of the ODI series had been bowled, and it was generally accepted that the task was near-impossible; only a cricketing miracle of biblical proportions could help the visiting Pakistan team trouble Australia in their own backyard.
The experts and fans were right in the end. With the exception of one game, where Pakistan displayed glimpses of their potential, the visitors struggled to stay competitive against an Australian unit which steamrolled its way to a convincing 4-1 series victory.
Pakistan’s Test series had earlier ended in disaster, with a 3-0 whitewash by the home side. Given that the five-day format is Pakistan’s stronger suit, the manner of their capitulation in Tests was a possible hint of the worse to come from the ODI side, which was ranked eighth in ICC’s ODI rankings.
Furthermore, the loss of tall fast-bowler Mohammad Irfan due to a family tragedy, who was supposed to provide the bounce to trouble the home batsmen, and the return of Sarfraz Ahmed to Pakistan to look after his ailing mother, were not the ideal start to the series that Azhar Ali and his men needed.
Given the build-up to the series and Pakistan’s reputation as a below average ODI side, it was nothing short of a shock to the home side when they were reduced to 5-78 in the first ODI, with David Warner scoring a meagre seven runs. But then, only as Pakistan can do, the Australians were given a generous let-off as they lifted themselves to 268/9. With a score of that magnitude, the current Pakistan batting line-up did what it does best to lose the game by 92 runs.
Mohammad Hafeez, who hitherto had struggled to find a place in the team, was promoted to captain in the absence of injured Azhar Ali and in the second ODI, achieved nothing short of a miracle as he led the team to a six wicket victory in Melbourne; the same ground where a victorious Pakistan team had lifted the 1992 World Cup. By now, parallels of a 'Cornered Tiger' style revival were being drawn and the word “momentous” being used freely to describe this victory, which levelled the five-match series at 1-1.
The Mohammad Hafeez magic, which had threatened to drive Pakistan to another victory, soon disappeared in the third ODI in Perth, where the visitors' lack of finishing power in batting came to the fore, handing a modest 264 run target to the Australian side. Babar Azam (84) and Sharjeel Khan (50) had provided glimpses of what could have been achieved on a mostly docile surface but the remaining batsmen were not up to the task. Australia captain Steve Smith then came into his own to chase down the target with relative ease, to put the home side in the lead again in the series.
Questions had been raised about Azhar Ali’s suitability as captain and the dip in his batting form. If there was a time to show his leadership and prove his detractors wrong, it had to be in the fourth ODI in Sydney. If Azhar was looking for some help from lady luck, he was in for a surprise.
From multiple dropped catches, to some bizarre bowling by his most trusted bowlers, to David Warner’s return to form with a century, nothing went right for the beleaguered Pakistan captain. The visitors duly lost the fourth ODI by 86 runs and ceded an unassailable 3-1 lead to Australia, with only pride to play for in the final game in Adelaide.
In the final encounter of the series, the home side won the toss again and it was clear that David Warner was not taking any prisoners. By the time he got out for a breathtaking 179 off 128 balls, the outcome of the game was looking to be a mere formality, with Australia posting 369/7 in their 50 overs.
The exuberance of youth is a term oft-mentioned in sports and if there was an example of that in action, it came from Babar Azam’s brilliant hundred. Placed under tremendous pressure by the asking rate, the twenty-two-year-old Babar combined with Sharjeel Khan to offer a glimmer of hope to his side.
The game and series did reach its inevitable end though, as Pakistan were bowled out for a credible 312, with Babar ending up as the highest run-scorer for the visitors, with 282 runs to his name in this series. In addition, his hundred at Adelaide was only the second by a Pakistani batsman away against Australia, which is an achievement itself.
The fast-scoring Sharjeel Khan was also not far behind, with 250 runs, and alongside Babar showcased the talent that Pakistan have in their ODI side. The importance of both batsmen to the Pakistan sides of the future is very clear and in Mickey Arthur’s words, their presence will be “pivotal” for the future makeup of the ODI teams.
In the bowling department, Mohammad Amir flattered to deceive but improved considerably on his Test performances as he took eight wickets in the series. However, if there was one bowler who impressed all with his attitude and perseverance against tough odds (and David Warner), it had to be the twenty-two-year-old Hasan Ali, who topped the wicket-taking charts for Pakistan with twelve scalps to his name.
The batting, with a few exceptions, failed to make the kind of impressions that was needed for Pakistan to stay competitive on this tour. Part of the problem was the inability to break the shackles of low strike-rates, although the constant challenge of facing above average targets also put pressure on an already frail line-up.
So how does one explain Pakistan’s failures on this trip to Australia? Mickey Arthur and Misbah-ul-Haq have both identified fatigue and constantly playing away from home as key factors, but there is no denying that Pakistan’s ODI decline is not a new phenomenon. From doubtful team composition to the choice of captain, there are issues which need to be addressed as soon as possible by the selectors and PCB management. A measured approach to analyse faults and then bring in deserving new faces would be the way forward but given Pakistan cricket’s track-record in such matters, changes to appease an angry fan-base and driven by knee-jerk reactions is more than likely.
The 4-1 loss to Australia confirms that changes are urgently needed; changes to the approach, changes to the fitness levels of the players, changes to the mindset and changes in personnel.
Updated Date: Jan 27, 2017 10:18:30 IST