The series between Australia and Pakistan is a bit of an oddity for a few reasons. The first is that it is being played on foreign soil, England in this case, the second is that the teams played a long and tedious series not six months ago in the Australian summer, and the final reason is that although Australia absolutely destroyed the Pakistani’s in that series, leading to a mass overhaul of Pakistani cricket, the result of this series is far from a foregone conclusion.
Now, I realise that this series preview comes a day late, and I do have the benefit of hindsight, which shows that the Pakistani’s tore apart the Australian batting order last night, but even before the two Mohammed’s success last night, this series was open to either side for the taking.
Playing a test series in Australia is an incredibly difficult task. After their famous Ashes win in 2005, the English team, still stocked full of talent, travelled to Australia and was embarrassed 5-0. Of course following this, Australia went on to lose the Ashes again in England the next year. This is but one example of the difficulties of travelling to Australia for touring sides, even for one as talented as the 2007 England team. The task is even more difficult for teams from the sub-continent, who are not used to the bouncy conditions and larger grounds. In fact the only team to taste success in recent history was South Africa in 2008-9, but this is of course a team that is well used to similar conditions.
Pakistan’s tour of Australia was a disaster, but other than the foreign pitch conditions, there were some fairly important mitigating factors.
The first of these was the furore around the position of former captain Younus Khan. Khan was a fine player, and a celebrated leader, but had been usurped of his power just prior to the series. There was plenty of conjecture about his absence from the team, and this had a marked effect on the new captain Mohammed Yusuf. Yusuf too, was a fine player, but evidently not a strong leader, and couldn’t handle the pressure of the absent Khan, and also struggled through some of the key moments on field.
The second major factor, related to the first, was that Pakistan was being continually undermined by its cricket board. There were constant reports about political interference in selection decisions, including leaving out Kamran Akmal after an admittedly poor performance. This kind of pressure was disruptive to a young team desperately trying to find form after so long not playing test cricket.
The final mitigating factor was the hunger of the Australian team. After a successful tour of South Africa, which seemed to usher in a new era for Ricky Ponting’s post-Warne and McGrath team, the Australians were devastated by their Ashes loss. This meant that they wanted to prove a point to an Australian public that doubted the credentials of this young team. Pakistan, in their tumultuous state, were lambs to the Australian slaughter.
Now, these factors are important to consider when considering the current series in England. Firstly, as we saw last night, the English conditions suit the young and exiting Pakistani pace attack much more than in Australia. Mohammed Amir and Mohammed Asif are fantastic proponents of swing bowling, and must just dream of playing in England every day.
Furthermore, there seems to be more solidity in the Pakistan team. Under new coach Waqar Younis and captain Shahid Afridi, there seems to be a new identity, particularly with Younus Khan and Mohammed Yusuf now clearly out of the picture.
The Australians on the other hand are at an odd place at the moment. Having just lost the ODI series against England, and with another series against India jammed in before the Ashes, Australia is trying desperately to test the strength of its wider squad. It knows that its bowling stocks will need to be deep, and must also start to think about contingencies for a loss of form from the top six. Marcus North seems to be the most at risk in the batting line-up, but Michael Clarke has also been out of touch, and I’m still not convinced with Shane Watson at the top of the order.
None of this means that Pakistan will necessarily win this series, but it will certainly be competitive. If their young batting line-up can support the excellent bowlers, and if their politicians can resist any harmful meddling, then they certainly have a fighting chance in this series.
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