It was a historic week in Rawalpindi as the Australian team played its first game in Pakistan for the first time since 1998.
Amid the backdrop of emotion, both gratitude and grief, The historic Test fizzled out into a boring draw on a surface that didn’t help anyone.
As all the batters filled their boots, all the bowlers toiled hard, as questions over selection were raised very early.
As we move ahead to the Second Test in Karachi, Here are the Top 6 talking points from the First Test at Pindi:
Pitch not met for the occasion
Pakistan had waited for 24 years to host Australia in an international series, and the eyes of world cricket were fixed squarely on Rawalpindi. By producing the surface that was served up for the first test, Pakistan dropped the ball horrendously.
“We can’t produce a fast pitch or a bouncy pitch and put the game in Australia’s lap… It’s important that when we play at home, we play to our strengths”, PCB chairman Ramiz Raja was quoted as saying. There’s nothing new in this strategy; it happens the world over. You won’t see a crumbling dustbowl when Australia hosts against a sub-continental nation any time soon.
The problem with this wicket is that it was one that offered no player any real assistance. Not only was there no spin nor seam movement on offer for the bowlers, but the lack of pace in the pitch meant that it was difficult for the batters to find their timing, and so passages of fluent strokeplay were few and far between.
14 wickets in a completed test match and an overall run rate of only 3.13 runs per over do not make for entertaining cricket, and the Pakistani cricket watchers deserve better: this is not what they have waited so long for. The Karachi surface is renowned for offering some seam movement early in the match and some spin late. Here’s hoping that the track on offer for the second test match is conducive to cricket that is worth watching (and writing about).
Pakistan land psychological batting blow
The pitch was the same for both sides and the match finished as a boring draw. But the home side emerged from Rawalpindi with the psychological advantage heading to Karachi after working Australia’s bowlers right over.
Australia bowled 264 overs across the six and a half sessions they were in the field and only managed to take four wickets. Including one run-out. Sandwiched in between big partnerships from the Pakistani batters with Imam ul-Haq, twice, Azhar Ali and Abdullah Shafique profited with big hundreds.
While the game reached its inevitable stalemate conclusion on Day 5, bowling 73 overs without taking a wicket would be cause for concern heading for Australia heading to the final two matches as the need to find ways to manufacture wickets on the slower wickets.
Two spin or no? Was that the bungle?
The makeup of the bowling attack for both sides was always going to be a point of intrigue pre-game in the leadup to the first Test.
Since Pakistan began hosting international cricket and Test cricket again, recent history ar Rawalpindi suggested that surface at Pindi would be more conducive to the seam bowlers. Citing the most recent Test at the venue against South Africa where 26 of the 40 wickets fell to seam bowling.
Not making a decision on the makeup of the bowling attack until the morning of the game should have given Australia greater flexibility to assess the conditions, especially since the pitch was undercover due to rain and weather in the two days leading up to Day 1, Australia selected their ‘A Class’ battery of fast bowlers and toiled hard on a pitch with no life.
Nathan Lyon bowled 78 overs collectively, shouldering a heavy workload among the quick bowlers and the several part-time spin options used in each innings.
Would having the second spinner for Australia made a difference on a wicket like that? Maybe not, but it would have given Lyon some much-needed respite and support from the other end in a meaningful spinning manner.
Emotionally charged week for all involved
Not since the passing of Phillip Hughes has there been a more emotionally trying week in Australian Cricket.
After news emerged that Rod Marsh had passed away on Friday, the morning of Day 1 after suffering a heart attack in Bundaberg a week earlier, a man who was such a highly regarded player, an administrator in Australian cricket and the world over, World cricket was rocked to its core even further with the passing of Shane Warne later that day.
For many members of that Australian side who had a relationship with both men, still influential figures in Australian cricket well after their playing days, taking the field in Rawalpindi would have been the furthest thing from their minds.
All around the world, The tributes flowed and minutes silence were held from Pindi to Dunedin as the world honoured the passing and the legacy of two highly influential figures in world cricket.
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A Pakistan selection dilemma solved, in the most emphatic manner
Before the match began, much conversation was centred around the selection of Pakistan’s opening pair.
There were cases made for Abdullah Rafique, Shan Masood, and Imam-ul-Haq, but three into two would not go. Imam was the popular choice to miss out on, but in the end, the selectors decided that Shan Masood would be the unlucky candidate.
This proved to be a wise choice. The bespectacled Imam, for all the world looking like he belonged more at the stock exchange than the cauldron of Test cricket, batted as though he knew he had been given the chance of a lifetime and could not afford to let it slip. The only time his rhythm slowed was in the 90s, but after a cover-driven four off Mitchell Starc brought up the three figures he was able to relax once more. That he continued along to 157 spoke volumes of his concentration, will, and desire.
Imam franked this performance with another fine hundred in the second innings, when Rafique also came to the party.
As if chastened by his wild swipe at Nathan Lyon in the first innings that cost him his wicket when a big score was there for the taking, Rafique was determined to make amends the second time around. Patient, slow and watchful early, he unleashed an array of strokes that made scoring seem easier than at almost any stage of this Rawalpindi bat-a-thon.
When Stumps were drawn he had become the second Pakistan opener in the match to raise his maiden Test hundred, hitting 15 boundaries and a six in his unbeaten 136, and the match had become only the second test in history to contain three opening partnerships of over 100 runs.
Australian tactics: was an opportunity missed?
The time lost to poor weather on the weekend only served to make a likely draw all but certain. The only way that a positive result was possible was the intent of the captains.
Pat Cummins is a young, inexperienced leader in only his fifth test as his nation’s leader, so a certain degree of slack must be cut his way. There was, however, the opportunity on the fourth evening to stamp an attacking imprimatur on the position.
When tea rolled around on Sunday, Australia was 112 runs behind the Pakistan first innings with four sessions left in the match. An Australian declaration at that stage, or even after half an hour’s thrash immediately after the interval, would have placed the onus back on their Pakistani counterparts; asking them whether they wanted to risk going one down in the series in pursuit of an unlikely victory.
Of course, the benign nature of the Rawalpindi wicket would more than likely have made any such attempt at a result futile in the finish. As a statement of attacking intent, however, it was an opportunity to seize the initiative with the insurance policy of being able to shut the game down in the fourth innings, should the need have arisen. A daring move, sure, but one with significant upside which may yet be taken should it be possible later in the series.
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