PAKISTAN lost it. Simple as that. It was their game to win and they fumbled it. Yes, it was great advertisement for Test cricket and typical of twists that have been on display at the UAE fronted Pakistan home Tests in recent years. But for it to end in a draw meant loss for Pakistan.

Yes Pakistan deserve praise for having won more sessions, and making the most of the flat track on the first two days. Hafeez after all faced Mitchell Starc and neutralized him and Haris Sohail at last raised his game to a new bar. The inspired selection of Bilal Asif, who might not have played had Shadab been fit, brought fruit as did that of Mohammad Abbas whom I had not expected to be successful in conditions like these.

But how Pakistan played their cricket on the final day poured not water but a flood over their performance in the Test.

So what went wrong in a Test that was in Pakistan’s pocket by the end of the fourth evening?

Firstly, they gave the ball to a hopelessly out of touch Wahab Riaz. I had thought that with some rest from the top level and a season in England would have honed him. But he was a waste of time and place. Yet Sarfraz persevered with him, and brought on Mohammad Abbas 55 minutes into the play when the overnight Australian batsman had got their eye in and what little moisture was there had evaporated. Having said that, it was needless for coach Mickey Arthur to squeal on his captain saying he would not have done that and opened with Abbas and Yasir.

Sarfraz has protected Arthur several times but he’s the first to squeal on his captain and team. We saw that in Asia Cup and we have seen it here again.

Secondly, Sarfraz set too defensive a field in the first session. It was a bit perplexing and the singles were there for the Australians to rotate the strike, the one tactic in cricket that gives batsmen supreme confidence. It was clear that Pakistan were, astonishingly at that, afraid of giving away boundaries. Were they fearful that given a good start Australia might chase the target? Nothing else makes sense of that field placing. And the fact that Sarfraz began to ring the batsmen once the first session had ended with the batting strike rate low, proves that.

Mickey Arthur hinted at that by saying something ridiculous on the lines the trend had shown runs in the morning and wickets in the afternoon. Nonsense really, and as Miandad cried often, the fallacy of laptop thinking rather than instinctive.

Third, building on that second point, Sarfraz kept only a slip to the fast men and a slip and short leg to his spinners in the morning. He wasn’t attacking when Pakistan knew the Aussies had a long tail and just three wickets would see them through. It was unimaginable that Australia could push for the target if they lost two wickets more. Had Sarfraz attacked with four fielders around the bat, the batsmen would have had to hit over the top and take risks. As it transpired both Usman and Head padded and reverse swept and blocked at will.

Fourth, Sarfraz did not follow through on his inspired move to give the new ball to Hafeez. He has left-handers for starters. Yet he was so underused as was Haris Sohail. It was clear very early on that Bilal was a shadow of his first innings and the Australians were not going to play anything remotely out of reach this time, the reason they fell to him in the first innings by chasing his deliveries outside off stump.

Sarfraz should have used Hafeez and Haris more as these are finger spinners and were getting more grip from the pitch. In fact, as a captain, I would have been thrilled at Usman Khawaja stepping out to drive Hafeez as he did. It would have been a matter of time before he made a mistake on a turning pitch.

Australia, meanwhile, are celebrating the great escape. They’ve earned it, and none other than reportedly the first Pakistani born to score a century against Pakistan, Khawaja leading the way. How well he played considering his adverse reputation against spin. His tactic of reverse sweeping Yasir was fraught with risks, yet he executed them all flawlessly.

The Australians, nevertheless, had their own tricky periods where they allowed Pakistan to get on top. They took the new ball too late in the first innings and played too rashly after the magnificent opening partnership in the first innings.

Their bowling remains a question mark. Starc struggled and was a shadow of his old self. There was something about his body language that talked of defeatism very early on. Was he conscious of the fact that there are aspersions that the Australian bowlers were in on the ball tampering at Cape Town and before that? Certainly he couldn’t get the reverse swing that he is famed for.

Both teams caught well, at times dazzlingly, in both innings but both the skippers I felt were found wanting catching the moment when it mattered most. Except that Paine made it up with his batting.

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2018

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