|Ground:||Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne|
|Player:||Abdul Razzaq, Mohammad Yousuf, Salman Butt, Yasir Hameed, Shoaib Malik, Shoaib Akhtar|
DateLine: 30th December 2004
Could a 9-wicket defeat be an occasion for optimism? In this case, I would think the answer is in the affirmative. Pakistan were defeated by Australia just before tea on the fourth day by a margin of 9 wickets. But for seven sessions they matched Australia blow for blow if anything, Pakistan had the better of the exchanges. At 254 for 7, Australia were looking at a deficit of 70-80. But in strode Jason Gillespie and everything changed in the next two sessions. While Gillespie defended resolutely, Damien Martyn, probably the most elegant batsman in world cricket today, stroked his way to a wonderful 142 his sixth century of the year. Pakistan were unable to break through weakened by the loss of Abdul Razzaq to illness and Shoaib Malik to an injury and a doubtful action Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Sami and Danish Kaneria were too weary to administer the knockout blow. Martyn and Gillespie added 93 and instead of being 70 ahead, Pakistan found themselves 38 behind.
Australia seized the initiative and never let go. Pakistan's brittle batting was unable to mount a sustained defence in the second innings. Salman Butt played his first really disappointing shot. Imran Farhat inspired no confidence. Yasir Hameed offered brief resistance but never showed any sign of permanency. Younis Khan and Yousuf Youhana offered brief resistance before Youhana fell to a poor decision a particularly cruel blow for a team that had already lost its best batsman and captain to injury. Younis, having looked untroubled, threw his wicket away. The back of the Pakistan batting was broken and while the injured Malik put up brave resistance and allowed Pakistan to put up a semblance of a target, Australia were too strong.
Nevertheless, Pakistan can come out of the Test with some real positives. Salman Butt's brave first innings counter attack showed that the young man has guts. There was an innings of real quality from Youhana under pressure and with the additional burden of captaincy. Youhana must build on this as it clearly shows he can score against even the toughest of opponents. Younis Khan has the temperament to be the Rahul Dravid of the Pakistan team and with Inzamam-ul-Haq and Youhana, Pakistan have a decent middle order. There was also fight shown by Shoaib Malik like the Pakistan team was battered but unbowed. Pakistan needs courageous players. On the bowling front, Shoaib Akhtar and Kaneria bowled superbly. The first was pace and intelligence and the second guile and tireless enthusiasm. The young legspinner has shown talent and a burning desire to learn and improve with every outing.
There were some disappointments too. Salman Butt's first innings effort was marred by a poor shot in the second. Imran Farhat looks out of his depth and his likely replacement, Yasir Hameed, lacks any permanency. Poor Abdul Razzaq is half the bowler he was 4 years ago and his batting has failed to improve. More worrying appears to be his fragile state of mind. Clearly affected by the criticism of his first innings dismissal at Perth, Razzaq clammed up completely only to find himself rendered entirely strokeless in Melbourne where he scored a tortured 4 not out in 76 deliveries. The result has been a severe illness Razzaq has collapsed again following his second innings effort with the bat. It's particularly sad to see a talented young cricketer struck down in this manner and I hope he recovers physically and is able to face and conquer his inner demons.
There must also be a question mark over Mohammad Sami's failure to deliver the goods. He bowled well in the first innings with little luck. He was listless and mediocre in the second apparently suffering from a bruised heel. But while Sami is a talented and hard working cricketer he has a smooth action, bowls at almost 90 mph, is a gifted athlete and fielder and an improving lower-order batsman - the promised breakthrough is not coming and it may be time to look to someone else while Sami works on his game.
Pakistan showed admirable spirit in competing as well as they did especially after the battering received at Perth and some venomous criticism from back home. There has been a definite improvement at Melbourne and lets hope that this upward trend continues in Sydney. No one expected Pakistan to win in Australia but for Bob Woolmer and his team what is important is to come away an improved team and to learn from their mistakes. Judging from the difference between Perth and Melbourne the team has done well.
There will have to be some changes for Sydney. Sami is injured but even if he wasn't this may have been the chance to give Naved-ul-Hasan an opportunity. Naved may not have the talent of Sami or the pace of Shoaib but he's lively, swings the ball and can bowl for long spells. Abdul Razzaq fit or not should be replaced by Shahid Afridi a dangerous batsman and an underrated bowler. Inzamam is apparently fit enough to play and Yasir should move up the order to replace Imran Farhat. Asim Kamal is the only enforced change likely to come in for the injured Shoaib Malik. The team then is as follows: Salman Butt, Yasir Hameed, Younis Khan, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Yousuf Youhana, Asim Kamal, Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal, Shoaib Akhtar, Naved-ul-Hasan and Danish Kaneria.
The balance has been damaged by the lack of a quality allrounder Shoaib Malik because of his injury and dodgy action and Abdul Razzaq because of poor form and illness. But for the future it will be essential to plug this gap Azhar Mahmood still appears unfit but if he were to make a concerted effort, India beckons. I have yet to see Yasir Arafat bat but he has bowled well throughout the domestic season. Abdul Razzaq must not be given up on but will need to make a major effort to regain his lost form. Even more important for India will be the need for Shoaib Malik to correct his action. The wicket in Sydney is likely to assist spinners and with Afridi at 7, Pakistan play 6 genuine batsmen. Pakistan's best hope is to put up a decent total in the first innings and then exert pressure through Shoaib and Kaneria with support from Afridi and Naved. The bowling looks one bowler short but put in another bowler and the batting then looks dreadfully thin. Pakistan will have to dig very deep to be competitive in the final Test.
(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
Copyright © 2004 Silly Point)
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