|Ground:||Western Australia Cricket Association Ground, Perth|
|Scorecard:||Australia v Pakistan|
|Event:||Pakistan in Australia 2004/05|
DateLine: 19th December 2004
Predictions at the start of the Perth Test were that Pakistan would not last 3 days. Had Ricky Ponting not extended Australia's innings this would have been the case. Pakistan's feeble batting lasted just over three sessions in all - and if you think that refers to one innings you are sadly mistaken - Pakistan lost all 20 wickets in a total of 108 overs, in a shade under 7 hours. Bob Woolmer will be hard pressed to salvage any positives from the wreckage of the Pakistan batting. Yes, Pakistan have come back from big opening defeats recently against India and Sri Lanka but Australia are a different proposition and the trouble is that to win Test Matches you need some runs on the board and Pakistan don't look like they can muster 100 amongst themselves.
The outlook for the rest of the series seems extremely dim. The opening spot remains the biggest problem - Salman Butt, despite his failures, looked relatively solid and will likely retain his place. But does Woolmer continue with Imran Farhat who has not shown any indication that his game is developing or does Woolmer opt for the equally suspect Yasir Hameed? The third option is Shahid Afridi. Afridi would add another bowling option and would really have to try hard to do worse than Hameed or Farhat. In fact the way the Pakistan batsmen are playing the team may as well send Shoaib Akhtar to open! But the fact that Afridi may be considered shows the desperate state of the opening partnership.
The two senior batsmen - Inzamam-ul-Haq and Yousuf Youhana completed a miserable game, with Inzamam looking completely out of sorts and Youhana making a frenetic 27 in the second innings including two wild slashes for four through the slips in his first half dozen deliveries. With no side matches scheduled before the Boxing Day Test, Inzamam and Youhana will have to find their form while at the crease.
Abdul Razzaq, whose batting inspired little confidence and whose bowling was mediocre at best, may be replaced by Shoaib Malik. Unfortunately, Malik continues to be under a cloud because of a suspect bowling action and this will clearly hamper his bowling. Kamran Akmal, looks like he will struggle to reach double figures in the series, but he plays by default.
Of the bowlers, Shoaib, Mohammad Sami and Danish Kanaria bowled manfully throughout the match and will hope for more (some? any?) support from their batsmen. Pakistan's support bowling was weak at Perth with only Sami and Shoaib ever looking threatening. Kaneria will find the pitches in Melbourne and Sydney more to his liking but neither Mohammad Khalil nor Abdul Razzaq ever looked like getting a wicket. It is here that Pakistan have missed Shabbir Ahmed and Umar Gul both of whom add variety to the attack and can continue to keep the pressure on the batsmen. Naved-ul-Hasan is likely to replace the unfortunate Khalil who, handled poorly by his captain, failed to get a wicket on debut while also picking up a first innings duck.
The Perth defeat also raises some serious doubts over Inzamam's capacity as a leader. There is no doubt that Inzamam has grown in the role of captain but he appears at his best when there is a need for a calming influence. Unfortunately, at the moment, Pakistan need a leader who can inspire the team, lift them and make them believe in themselves again. This, I fear, is beyond Inzamam - even more so now because his own form has slumped and in such situations the 'genial giant' is likely to become more introverted. But again, Pakistan have very few (no?) options.
In the longer term, Bob Woolmer has to realise that maybe the batch of players he has invested his first 6 months with may not be the players of the future. There is no question of Woolmer needing an interpreter as has been suggested by some critics. He is able to communicate perfectly well with the players.
But where he has perhaps failed is in his stubbornness in accepting he may not be able to transform some of the present team into world-class performers. Yes, Shoaib Malik has responded. So too has Salman Butt. But Yasir Hameed appears to lack the technique and Imran Farhat the temperament and will to improve. It is time that Inzamam, Woolmer and the selectors look further afield and give players like Misbah-ul-Haq, Bazid Khan and Aamir Bashir a deserved run.
It is also high time that we rediscover whether Wajahatullah Wasti is still the player he was when he played Test cricket for Pakistan. Wasti's Test record is easily as impressive as Yasir Hameed's and moreover the burly Peshawar captain had what so many Pakistani batsmen are lacking - a decent technique. But because he lacked the big shots of an Imran Nazir or the fluency of Imran Farhat he was discarded prematurely. But Wasti - though not opening for Peshawar - is averaging over 60 currently in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. If he has managed to maintain his technique Wasti could be the man for Pakistan. It would also be a boost for Pakistan if Taufeeq Umar found some form following his knee operation. The young Lahore opener showed plenty of promise and a decent temperament.
Abdul Razzaq's alarming decline as a bowler and his continued under performance as batsman should also mean that Azhar Mahmood, if he gets himself fit, should come back into consideration. His bowling is more penetrative than Razzaq's and his batting held much promise - at one distant point in the past. There is also the young allrounder Yasir Arafat who has turned in some impressive recent performances in the domestic season.
And what of the wicketkeeping position? Purely in terms of performance, Rashid Latif should be part of the team. But how disruptive of the team will his presence be? Also is it not time to invest in the future? Rashid is 36 and past his peak and turning to him could seem a regressive step. It's not an easy decision but it may be worthwhile for Inzamam and Rashid to sit down and clear the air.
But the question the selectors will need to answer at the end of the tour will be whether to make changes on the basis of this tour. It could be argued the likes of Akmal, Hameed, Farhat and Razzaq should be persisted with simply because the difficulty of the tour merits they be given another chance against less demanding opposition. On past experience Woolmer and Inzamam are likely to push for a conservative, minimal changes approach. I disagree with this. If there appears to be no indication of improvement in certain players then some of these players may not have what it takes to succeed at the highest level and in that sense it is better to look elsewhere.
Bob Woolmer will face considerable criticism following Pakistan's defeat and his critics will aim squarely at him rather than the team. This is unfortunate because while Woolmer must accept responsibility - and to be fair he does do that - absolving the team of having a hand in the defeat simply breeds complacency and a lack of accountability of the players. At the moment there do not appear to be any easy solutions to some quite serious problems.
I'll end by saying that watching Pakistan go down so meekly was a huge disappointment but now that the anger has subsided somewhat I feel a degree of sympathy for the team. The current Australian team have been compared with the best-ever teams in Test cricket. Pakistan have always struggled in Australia and particularly in Perth and this tour has started disastrously. No team purposely plays poorly - the boys have tried and failed badly and they will - at the moment - feel shattered. Let's hope that they can give a better account of themselves in the remaining two Test Matches.
(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
Copyright © 2004 Silly Point)