Pak vs Eng: Talking points after Babar Azam and Co’s series defeat in Multan

Published December 12, 2022
England’s captain Ben Stokes (L) shakes hands with captain Babar Azam after England’s victory at the end of second cricket Test match between Pakistan and England at the Multan Cricket Stadium in Multan on Dec 12. — AFP
England’s captain Ben Stokes (L) shakes hands with captain Babar Azam after England’s victory at the end of second cricket Test match between Pakistan and England at the Multan Cricket Stadium in Multan on Dec 12. — AFP

The Multan Test in the end proved a cliffhanger. Saud Shakeel looked splendid — desperately trying to help Pakistan get over the line — until that controversial catch through the decision review system.

Anyway, England are the well-deserved winners of the series. Ben Stokes and his men continued with the go-get-it stance they had proudly exhibited in Rawalpindi and earned the reward. The last Test in Karachi, unfortunately, now becomes a dead game.

The Brendon McCullum-coached victorious side, one strongly feels merits double congratulations. First for their series triumph and second for making the Tests result-oriented through their combined initiative.

‘Bazball’

Had there been no ‘Bazball’, England’s inventive style of playing Tests, the series after Multan might have been 1-0 in favour of the tourists. Stokes’ sporting second-innings declaration in Rawalpindi put life into an absolutely drab match and helped his team wrap up the series in Multan. Though the victory margins of 74 runs (Rawalpindi) and 26 runs (Multan) may suggest a nominal difference between the two sides, the actual factor separating the two outfits was their contrasting approaches.

For Pakistan, since losing the series decider to Australia in Lahore in March, Multan was their third consecutive Test loss at home; indeed not a good omen for skipper Babar Azam and his team, and should be an eye-opener sooner than later. The hosts now confront issues that need serious and urgent attention. From the docile pitch controversy in Rawalpindi to the batters’ miserable show to injuries to questionable selections, and whatnot!

‘Bazball’ caught the Pakistan camp totally off guard. Azam, coach Saqlain Mushtaq and the entire staff must have felt bewildered on the fourth day of the Rawalpindi Test when England asked them after tea to bat a chase a tricky 343 in four sessions.

Were Pakistan properly prepared to defy and counter ‘Bazball’? It didn’t seem so.

Poor pitch

Just for the sake of discussion, even if one assumes that the home team and its management were battle-ready for ‘Bazball’, then how in this world could a belter be prepared in Rawalpindi which — indirectly — benefited the tourists?

Who was in charge of pitch preparation at the Pindi Cricket Stadium where a sporting track could well make the game even and eventually prove helpful for Azam and his charges? Were the captain and the coaching staff not consulted? In this regard, blaming the curators, who at least in Pakistan have a very negligible say in making pitches, is nothing but a sloppy attempt to put things under the carpet.

The Pindi Cricket Stadium, some nine months ago, had witnessed a dreary high-scoring drawn Test between Pakistan and Australia. It goes on to show there is something drastically wrong with pitch preparations on Pakistan soil. Here, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairman Ramiz Raja is duly expected to correct this anomaly through some solid steps.

A very much evenly-helpful wicket at the Multan Cricket Stadium, where England’s team could manage scores of 281 and 275 (the sum is 100 less than what the tourists freely made in one innings in Rawalpindi) explicitly shows what different types of track can cause.

Team selection

Some of the team selections by Pakistan for both Tests have been far from satisfactory.

Azhar Ali, a veteran of 95 Tests with 7000-plus runs under his belt, has been grappling for form. While his struggles on fast, seaming and bouncy pitches are well known, the right-hander has now started showing his frailties even on Pakistan featherbeds. If the team management had picked southpaw Shan Masood, who has been enjoying a purple patch in the past year or so in both white and red-ball cricket, and rested Ali for the series opener, the result there would have been different.

Secondly, looking at it retrospectively, giving leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood a debut on a lifeless Rawalpindi pitch miserably backfired. Mystery leg-spinner Abrar Ahmed, whose 11-wicket wizardry on debut checked a belligerent England in Multan, could have been the better recipe for the hosts.

Lack of ‘specialists’

According to former Pakistan captain Rashid Latif, the home team lacked specialists.

“Test cricket is a game of specialists, and here Pakistan lacked significantly in the two Tests. The team should have specialist batters and bowlers,” Rashid said when approached by Dawn.com to give his view on the ongoing series against England.

He continued, “We were also short of experienced batters and bowlers. Only Ahmed [in Multan] managed to restrict the English team. Apart from him, all the other bowlers were highly inexperienced at this [Test] level.

“Pakistan’s bowling, when compared to England’s line-up which had veteran James Anderson, looked very weak.”

Injuries and Babar’s off-colour outings

While finally dropping experienced yet out-of-form Ali for Multan, Pakistan picked fast bowling all-rounder Faheem Ashraf who could not do anything significant both with bat and ball. And bringing in Mohammad Nawaz, a spinning all-rounder in white-ball cricket, after pacer Haris Rauf suffered a shoulder injury while fielding in Rawalpindi caused no ripples either.

Even Rauf’s inclusion, who absolutely had no experience of a five-day game, for the high-profile opening Test against a formidable side like England, seemed an incomprehensible gamble which went horribly wrong besides ruling him out of the second and third Tests.

The team management should not overlook the fact that Naseem Shah, another speed merchant, missed the Multan Test due to a shoulder niggle. Spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi, the top gun of Pakistan’s pace attack, is already out with a lingering knee problem.

So, the management, with a two-match home series against world Test champions New Zealand starting later this month, is expected to tread with extreme care while picking the final eleven for the Karachi Test.

Another concern for Pakistan — hope it will not linger for long — is Azam’s second innings off-colour outings. In Rawalpindi, as well as in Multan, he scored heavily in the first innings but wilted in the second. Hopes that he will work on this and with the right input from his charges and coaching staff would succeed in steering Pakistan out of the present mess.

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