AN unprepared Pakistan drastically misjudged England’s strength as well as their intentions, and consequently paid the heaviest price ever at the National Stadium. The first-ever clean sweep at home is going to be extremely damaging for the hosts who suffered their fourth consecutive Test loss in their backyard on Tuesday.
Firmly embracing the novel ‘Bazball’ mindset since May this year, England on the other hand continue to enjoy purple patch, the resounding eight-wicket victory in Karachi was their ninth in the last 10 Tests. Perhaps Babar Azam and Saqlain Mushtaq overlooked the fact that before arriving in Pakistan, the Ben Stokes-led team this year had won Test matches against world champions New Zealand, South Africa and India.
For Babar-led Pakistan, who have had a nasty 2022 as far as Test cricket is concerned, many tough questions await. With a sole victory — amid five losses — in eight Tests (six of which were held at home) in their pocket, Pakistan have dipped alarmingly before touching a new low yesterday at the National Stadium which otherwise has remained a prolific arena for the hosts for decades.
A genuine appraisal, focused inwardly, is the need of the hour.
It is not that simple, however. The jigsaw of anomalies and loopholes hurting Pakistan cricket are many and run deep. Yet the set of long-held irregularities look very obvious. The consequences have now started to emerge. It is indeed puzzling as well as disturbing!
After having lost the three-match home series to Australia 1-0 with an age-old recipe featuring featherbed pitches earlier this year, the Pakistan think-tank simply failed to learn, at least surface-related lessons and continued with the same run-of the-mill practice against England.
The hosts carried a confusion-laden approach throughout the England series which was played on three different types of tracks. The strip in Rawalpindi was dead, Multan was sporting with a bit for everybody and Karachi was a turner.
Yet England’s crystal clear plans were not at all hampered by this variance. They had “no interest in playing draws”, as Stokes had declared after winning the Rawalpindi Test while stumped Pakistan were caught off guard.
While accepting, to some extent, Babar’s justification in his post-match presser in Karachi that his team largely comprised inexperienced youngsters — due to injuries to a number of players — one may ask the captain: how then England’s young leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed managed to take seven wickets on his debut in an away series? How did Harry Brook, with experience of just one Test prior to the Pakistan series, amass 468 runs (averaging 93.6, three centuries) at a totally unfamiliar territory to earn the man-of-the-series honour? Is it a surprise that opener Ben Duckett, having played just four Tests before coming to Pakistan succeeded in smashing 357 runs in the series at a healthy 71.4?
And what about middle-order Saud Shakeel who in his debut Test series cracked 346 at a notable 57.66? His exploits along with those of mystery leg-spinner Abrar Ahmed (17 wickets, averaging 27.17) is a testimony to the fact that giving appropriate and timely chance to promising youngsters on the domestic circuit eventually pay rich dividends to the team at the international level. When a specific domestic cricketing system is in place and operating it should be duly patronised by the stakeholders concerned.
Talking about injuries to Pakistan’s frontline fast bowlers, one can surely recall it all started in July this year with spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi suffering a knee problem which exacerbated during the all-important T20 World Cup final potentially ruling him out of the entire series against England. Shaheen was followed by Naseem Shah who missed the last two Tests against England after developing a shoulder niggle during the Test in Rawalpindi. Haris Rauf, having no experience of Tests, was out of the blue fielded against the formidable England on a lifeless Rawalpindi track. He missed the remaining two Tests due to an unexpected injury incurred during a practice session.
The Pakistan team management amid heaps of white-ball games, perhaps, has no idea on how to adjust the workloads, particularly of fast bowlers.
It seems no lessons were learned by the management when Shaheen finally crumbled mainly after playing non-stop cricket in all formats. Naseem wilted after bowling on an ultra-docile Rawalpindi pitch. Is Pakistan cricket system ready to blunt its own pace bowlers by keep laying batting paradises?
Fragile batting has remained a perennial headache for Pakistan team management which it seems never devises solid plans for future. Had it done so, then one reckons a fading Azhar Ali would have been shown the door after this year’s home series against Australia. Whereas England after bagging the series in Multan axed their 177-Test stalwart James Anderson for the Karachi game, definitely for the team’s cause, and the move resulted in a historic triumph for the tourists. Can we ever expect our team management to think out of the box and make a change like this? A big no, I reckon, not in the near future at least.
The aging Azhar, who had lost his focus even on slow Sri Lankan tracks, never deserved to play against England in Karachi but again ‘seniority’ and ‘experience’ somehow prevailed that compromised the team’s interest. Imagine how beneficial it would have been for Pakistan had left-handed Saud been picked for the two-Test away series against Sri Lanka earlier this year. Alas, it was not to be!
Last but not the least, one thinks the hosts blundered by retaining Mohammad Rizwan, who struggled with the bat in the first two Tests, for the inconsequential match in Karachi. By giving former captain Sarfaraz Ahmed a chance would have tested him besides giving Rizwan, who has operated without a break for a while, a much-needed break to recuperate.
Babar, his charges, Saqlain and the entire coaching staff need to sit down and go back to the drawing board before the Tim Southee-led New Zealand squad lands in Karachi. While the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) officials are advised to wake up and make solid and futuristic changes, particularly on pitch making, before it gets too late.
Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2022