Australia achieved mixed results in its first tour of Pakistan since 1998. (Photo: cricket.com.au - Twitter)

Australia's three wicket win over Pakistan in the stand-alone T20I on Wednesday morning signalled the end of their historic tour of Pakistan.

Australia’s three-wicket win over Pakistan in the stand-alone T20i on Wednesday morning signaled the end of their historic tour of Pakistan. 

The Inner Sanctum looks at some of the key talking points arising out of Australia’s six-week stint abroad.

Usman Khawaja is at the peak of his powers

In what was already a special tour for Khawaja, the 35-year-old put together an outstanding test series in Pakistan, culminating in him being awarded Player of the Series. Playing in his country of birth for the very first time, Khawaja rose to the occasion, compiling 496 runs across five innings at a remarkable average of 165.33.

In foreign conditions, Khawaja balanced patience with aggression to thwart the threat posed by the seam and spin variety of the Pakistan attack. Not afraid to defend on the back foot to the spinners, Khawaja utilised the sweep and reverse-sweep to disrupt the rhythm of Sajid Khan and Nauman Ali throughout the series. 

When it came to combatting the pace of the likes of Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah, Khawaja effortlessly deployed the pull-shot on countless occasions, showcasing both elegance and ruthlessness.

After falling agonisingly short of a century in the first test in Rawalpindi (97), the Queenslander compiled a classy 160 in Karachi. This was followed by match-winning knocks of 91 and 104* across both innings of the deciding third Test in Lahore.

Despite not reaching triple figures, Khawaja’s perhaps most significant contribution was his first innings score of 91 in Lahore.

With both David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne losing their wicket in the space of three balls, the Australians found themselves 2-8 and in dire need of a partnership. Yet the calm and composed Khawaja seemed unfazed, working in tandem with Steve Smith to rebuild the innings and all but confirm his importance to the Australian Test side, even at the ripe age of 35. 

This series follows an emphatic return to the test side in the Australian summer, where Khawaja scored 137 and 101* across both innings of the SCG test against England.

A reflection of Khawaja’s dominance since his return to the Australian test setup, he now sits only two runs off his career-best total runs in a calendar year (753 in 2016), having also played seven innings less. 

Since overtaking Marcus Harris as Australia’s preferred opening partner to Warner, Khawaja has taken the opportunity presented to him with both hands. In arguably the best form of his international career, the veteran is certainly proving that age is just a number. 

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Mixed fortunes for Australia’s captains

Still relatively fresh to captaincy, Pat Cummins continues to show no signs of his new-found leadership status impacting his on-field performance. A 1-0 test series win away-from-home maintains Cummins’ unbeaten start to life as Australia’s Mens Test captain.

The number one ranked test bowler in the world finished the series as the joint highest wicket-taker, taking 12 wickets at an average of 22.50.

A breathtaking spell of fast bowling late on day three of the third Test epitomised Cummins’ leadership credentials, seeing him finish with figures of 5-56 off 24 overs in the first innings. With the final Test edging closer towards a likely draw, Cummins took the game by the scruff of the neck, combining with fellow New South Welshman Mitchell Starc to pick up Pakistan’s final seven wickets for just 20 runs.

It was a fine display of reverse-swing bowling from Cummins, who showed the spirit and fight the Australian cricketing public has come to know and love. 

From a captaincy perspective, his aggressive declaration in the final Test has earnt many plaudits, highlighting his faith in his bowling unit to steer the side to victory. While Cummins will undoubtedly be presented with new challenges on his journey as Test captain, he appears to have settled into the role well.

In contrast, Australia’s limited-overs captain Aaron Finch failed to fire individually against Pakistan during the ODI series, continuing his lean run with the bat for a player of his standards. 

A scratchy 23 off 36 balls in the first ODI was followed by successive ducks in the final two games of the series. Perhaps most concerning is the similarity of his dismissals. The Australian captain was trapped in front LBW on two occasions by both Haris Rauf and Pakistan’s leading white-ball bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi.

However, the one-off T20i offered some respite for the out-of-form Australian captain. Finch was able to showcase his trademark power and aggression, accumulating 55 off 45 balls to steer his side to victory.

Finch will be hoping to carry some of that momentum into Australia’s upcoming tour of Sri Lanka, where his side will take part in three T20s and five ODI’s. 

Babar showcases his quality across all three formats once again

Ranked by the ICC as the fifth-best Test batter in the world, and the number one batsman in ODI and T20I cricket, Babar Azam exuded class throughout Australia’s tour of his home nation.

Led notably by his match-saving knock of 196 in the second innings at Karachi, Babar proved to be a thorn in Australia’s side as they desperately searched for wickets on the final two days of the Test match. The innings was Babar’s highest individual score in Test cricket since making his debut in 2016. It also signified the highest fourth-innings score by a Pakistani batsman, previously held by Younis Khan.

Renowned for his extravagant stroke-making and exquisite timing, Babar also exhibited a great deal of discipline and grit. Facing 425 deliveries in a long vigil at the crease, Pakistan’s inspirational leader highlighted his adaptability to the rigours of Test cricket.

He finished the Test component of the series with 390 runs at an average of 78.00 across five innings. Only Usman Khawaja (496) and teammate Abdullah Shafique (397) scored more runs.

However, he didn’t stop there. Leading his team to an impressive 2-1 ODI series win, Babar compiled 276 runs at an average of 138.00 across the three matches. This included two centuries and one half-century. Targeting both seam and spin, Babar punished an under-manned Australian bowling attack across all parts of the ground. 

He is now the fastest batter to reach 15 ODI hundreds by innings and looks unlikely to be slowing down any time soon.

The Australians will be quietly enjoying seeing the back of Babar, who even made the most of the stand-alone T20I with a sublime 66 off 46 deliveries.

Babar Azam is acknowledged by Pat Cummins and his team after being dismissed for 196. (Photo: cricket.com.au)

Multiple Australians given opportunities to perform on the international stage

Australia’s tour of Pakistan led to multiple players being handed chances to either make their debut or push their case for upcoming one-day and T20 World Cup campaigns.

Queensland leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson received his long-awaited test debut, becoming the 464th player to don the baggy green.

Having spent time with the Test squad since 2017, the 28-year-old finally earned his chance in the second Test in Karachi.

Finishing the series with two wickets at an average of 133.00, Swepson might not have had the impact statistically he may have hoped for. However, luck was not always on his side, with multiple chances dropped off his bowling during the series.

With an upcoming tour of Sri Lanka on the horizon, it will be interesting to see whether Swepson is given further opportunity to bowl in conditions that traditionally suit spin. 

His inclusion in the Cricket Australia men’s contract list for 2022-23 does suggest that the leg-spinner is a key part of Australia’s plans moving forward.

On the white-ball component of the tour, the unavailability of several senior players due to injury and COVID-19 created opportunities for others to ply their craft in limited-overs cricket.

Coming off a largely unproductive Test series, Travis Head opened the batting for Australia in one-day cricket, returning to the national limited-overs setup for the first time since November 2018. His aggressive intent at the top of the innings was a highlight, carving Pakistan’s quicks through the offside proving to be a real feature of his game. 

The South Australian blasted 101 off 72 deliveries in the opening ODI, which now ranks as the eighth fasted century by an Australian batsman in one-day international cricket. 

Travis Head celebrates his fine century in the first ODI of the series. (Photo: cricket.com.au)

Ben McDermott also secured his maiden international century in the second ODI, replicating some of the strong form he’s shown domestically for Tasmania. This was the major highlight of a successful white-ball tour for McDermott who was a consistent contributor across the ODI’s and sole T20. 

Bowlers Sean Abbott and Nathan Ellis also got more exposure to international cricket during the tour. Ellis took an impressive 4-28 off 4 overs in the T20 while Abbott demonstrated his capability with the bat, blasting 49 off 40 deliveries in the first ODI. 

Marnus Labuschagne, Cameron Green, and Ben Dwarshuis were also handed their first games in T20 cricket.

A glimpse into Pakistan’s fast bowling future

Pakistan’s opening bowling combination of Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf was at its damaging best in the white-ball leg of the series against Australia.

Notably, the final ODI saw them rip through Australia’s top order, combining for five wickets in a quality display of fast bowling. The left-arm pace of Shaheen unsettled Finch in particular throughout the series, while Rauf’s clever changes in pace were effective against Australia’s middle order.

However, with Rauf ruled out of the first Test in Rawalpindi due to contracting COVID-19, the cricketing world is still left waiting to see him in action with the red ball. 

In his absence, tearaway quick Naseem Shah put his best foot forward. The 19-year-old finished the Test series with 6 wickets, including a four-wicket haul in the third test (4-58 off 31 overs). His raw pace not only troubled Australia’s batsmen, but the youngster also proved to be a terrific exponent of reverse swing in conducive conditions.

An attack featuring all of Shaheen, Rauf, and Naseem in Test match cricket is an exciting prospect for Pakistani cricket fans. It has the potential to challenge the very best batting line-ups in the years to come.

Summary of the Tour

First Test (Rawalpindi) – Match Drawn

Second Test (Karachi) – Match Drawn

Third Test (Lahore) – Australia won by 115 runs

First ODI (Lahore) – Australia won by 88 runs

Second ODI (Lahore) – Pakistan won by six wickets

Third ODI (Lahore) – Pakistan won by nine wickets

T20I (Lahore) – Australia won by three wickets

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