By Will Moulton
It’s amazing just how long a year can be in international cricket. In late 2012, England won their first Test series in India since the mid ‘80s; thirteen months later they were famously humiliated by Australia, who then went and beat South Africa in their own backyard to overtake them as the top-ranked Test team. After a few miserable years, the fortunes of the Aussies looked to be on the up – Mitchell Johnson was playing out of his skin, a settled batting line-up had been discovered and, in Nathan Lyon, the selectors finally seemed to have found a spinner who they could rely on. All of this promise, though, was undone in just two Tests against Pakistan.
Pakistan has not lost a ‘home’ Test series since moving to the United Arab Emirates in 2010. Included in this run are two series draws with South Africa and a 3-0 humbling of England, where they superbly exploited the Three Lions’ weakness against spin. Under the captain of the seemingly ageless Misbah-ul-Haq, the team has slowly recovered from two major events that rocked the nation – firstly, the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in 2009 that forced them to move to the Middle East and then the spot-fixing scandal in 2010.
The Men in Green, though, are famous throughout cricketing history for their inconsistency and this is still the case now – just a few months before drawing their second consecutive series with The Proteas, Pakistan lost a Test to Zimbabwe, a side who had not beaten anyone other than Bangladesh in the 5-day format since 2001.On top of this, their star spinner Saeed Ajmal has been banned indefinitely from the game after being found to have an illegal bowling action. This would have been fantastic news to Australian ears as Ajmal has been almost unplayable in recent years, taking 178 Test wickets in just 35 games, making many batsmen look very silly along the way. As a result, Pakistan were forced to select left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar, who had only taken 6 wickets in his two previous Test matches, and the unknown leg-break bowler Yasir Shah on pitches that are extremely batsman-friendly and against an Australian line-up including one of the finest batsmen in the world in Michael Clarke, who is also a great player of spin. He and the rest of the batting line-up were looking to gorge themselves on runs against this inexperienced attack.
This didn’t come to fruition though. Aside from reducing Pakistan to 7-2 on the first morning of the first Test, the Australians trailed in the wake of their opponents for the entirety of the series. Their batsmen struggled against Zulfiqar and Yasir, who performed out of their skins, picking up 30 of the 40 Aussie wickets between them, strangling their batsmen slowly but methodically. Younis Khan was the main protagonist, though, as he hit three centuries in four innings, including a masterful 213 in the second Test. However, it wasn’t a one-man show; the rest of the batting line-up struck another six tons between them in just four innings. They completely nullified an Australian attack that, not long previously, had ripped through two of the best teams in the world. Johnson was economical but never really looked like getting a wicket; Peter Siddle, as ever, toiled away but for no reward; Lyon was ineffectual and the part-time spinners were easy targets for the batsmen.
Neither game was even close and, as such, records tumbled for the home side – Pakistan’s winning margin of 356 runs in the first Test was their largest ever in terms of runs, whilst Younus himself became his country’s leading century maker in Tests, hismagnificent double ton being his 27th. He also joined a select few batsmen to hit three consecutive hundreds in the longer format. Captain Misbah-ul-Haq, not to be outdone, struck centuries in both innings of the second match – the second, also the joint quickest of all time in the format – also his 50th Test, and the victories lifted his winning percentage as captain to 45.16%, the fourth highest for any Pakistan captain to have taken charge of 10+ matches. It was also their first series victory over Australia for 20 years and lifted them to third in the ICC Test rankings. If ever there was a perfect series, then this was it.
So what now for these two teams? The challenge for Pakistan will be to continue this form and finally show what a dominant force they can be. Although some of their star players are getting on a bit – Younus is 36 and Misbah 40- there is plenty of young and exciting talent coming through the ranks. For so long this side has promised so much but delivered so little; now is the time for them to finally come good, starting with the ‘home’ series against New Zealand which starts later this month.
Australia, though, have to see these two games as just a blip. They have been scintillating in all forms of cricket over the last year and would have known going to the UAE would be tough, so just need to forget and move on. Their next Test series starts is a home one against a wounded India in a month’s time and, having destroyed them 4-0 when they last visited, they should be confident of a return to winning ways. However, being an England fan and with an Ashes series coming up next year, I’d quite like to see the Indians give them a good thrashing!