Australia thrashed Pakistan 2-0 in a recent two-Test series. The visitors lost both Tests, at Brisbane and Adelaide, by an innings margin and have returned home after yet another disappointing tour. Here is a closer look at the three takeaways for Pakistan from this series.
Pakistan bowlers once again failed to put a show on their tour to Australia. They took only 13 out of 40 available wickets and their overall bowling average (88.69) across two Tests was their worst ever in any Test series. The poor performance was down to their inexperience in bowling. Pakistan included three rookie fast bowlers – Shaheen Shah Afridi (aged 19), Mohammad Musa Khan (19) and Naseem Shah (16). It was first time in Test history that a team played a series with three pacemen aged under 20.
Although Shaheen made a mark with 5 wickets at 36.80, Musa and Naseem combined took just one wicket in two Tests. The two experienced bowlers Mohammad Abbas and Imran Khan also accounted for just one wicket between them.
With two seasoned pacemen Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz retiring from red-ball cricket and Hasan Ali out with injury, there weren’t many options available for Pakistan. Naseem Shah was the leading wicket taker among fast bowlers in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy 2019-20 (when the squad was announced), hence they decided to give him a run. The move however didn’t work as Pakistan’s bowlers got punished by Australian batsmen, who scored 580 for 10 in Brisbane and 589-3 in Adelaide.
After ten rounds of the QEA Trophy, the top two wicket takers among pacers (Tabish Khan and Sohail Khan) are averaging nearly 40 while the next two (Waqas Ahmed and Rahat Ali) are averaging 35plus. These numbers underline the lack of fast bowling resources in the country.
On Azhar Ali’s previous tour to Australia (2016-17), he was Pakistan’s best batsman with 406 runs at an average of 81.20 including a double-century in Melbourne. But that series was played under the shadow of the two senior batsmen Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. Now being the most senior batsman in the team, he scored only 62 runs at 15.50 in two Tests. Since the start of the South Africa tour last year, Azhar has mere 121 runs at 12.10 and his form with the bat, especially with him now also captaining the team, is a big concern for Pakistan.
After Misbah and Younis retired, Pakistan looked at Azhar and Asad Shafiq to play a similar role. But both the batsmen haven’t filled their shoes. Since the two retirements, Azhar has scored only 763 runs in 15 Tests at an average of 26.31 whereas Shafiq in this time has put 1034 runs at 36.92. Both Misbah and Younis averaged 50plus this decade.
Shafiq is a curious case. Although his recent performances are not bad – he scored 88 in Cape Town, 65 in Johannesburg, 76 in Brisbane, 57 in Adelaide, he hasn’t been able to hit a match winning or saving knock that Pakistan expect from a batsman of his experience. The fact that even after 71 Tests he is still believed to be a number five or six batsman shows that he hasn’t been able to stamp his authority. With Pakistan having inexperienced openers in the circuit (Imam-ul-Haq, Sami Aslam, Abid Ali, to an extent Shan Masood too) and Babar Azam still in the developing phase of his career, the onus is on Azhar and Asad to produce runs and make youngsters bat under their shadow.
Perhaps the only positive for Pakistan from this tour of Australia is Babar Azam proving his worth in Test cricket. As he scored only 68 runs in six innings on the previous tour Down Under, there were doubts regarding credentials in Test cricket. Following a decent tour of South Africa where he scored 92 runs off 79 balls against Dale Steyn alone and now a tour to Australia where he nearly scored two centuries, those doubts have been put to rest.
The 25 years old accumulated 210 runs at 52.50 including 104 in Brisbane and 97 in Adelaide. That happened after he scored 157 against Australia A in a tour match in Perth. Babar is now ranked 13 in the ICC Test Rankings for batsmen and with the next two series at home against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, Pakistan can expect Babar to break into top ten batsmen for the first time in his career.
Babar’s batting graph is on the rise.. Since 2018, he is averaging 50plus in all three formats – Tests, ODIs and T20Is. There was never a doubt on his limited overs prowess but now with runs on two difficult tours to South Africa and Australia, it can be assumed that Babar is on his way towards becoming a great in all formats.