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Pakistan cricket team’s problems at the top


While Pakistan’s preparation on the recent tour seemed adequate—they had practice matches on bouncy wickets in Perth and the batsmen trained to cope with short-pitched bowling—they forgot one important ingredient, captaincy. Pakistan’s captaincy on the last three tours of Australia has been abysmal. Rarely have they bowled Australia out for anything like a reasonable first innings score and when they did—at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2010—Mohammad Yousuf then orchestrated the worst captaincy possible to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

To exacerbate the problem, Misbah-ul-Haq, who presided over an Australian run feast on the 2016-17 tour, was appointed coach of the recent tour. Judging by the field placings set by Azhar Ali, the 2019-20 captain, he had read thoroughly—from cover to cover—Misbah’s Australian tour play book.
Captaincy in Australia is unlike other countries. The pitches certainly have extra bounce but if good batsmen are set they can be hard to remove and it requires a dose of positive imagination to bring about their downfall.

Bereft of ideas
Just like the hardest adjustment for a batsman is from low to high bouncing pitches, the same applies to captaincy. Sub-continent captains are at a disadvantage because they become so used to placing fieldsmen around the bat for spinners that they often appear bereft of ideas when called upon for alternatives.

Captaincy should be one of the prime topics of discussion before a team tours Australia. The frustrating thing about Pakistan’s ineptitude in Australia is that they produce fast bowlers. Fast bowling is crucial to success in Australia; Douglas Jardine understood that when he unveiled Bodyline in 1932-33. The West Indies, armed with a battery of fast bowlers under first, Clive Lloyd and then Viv Richards, understood better than any other team. In 2018-19, Virat Kohli cleverly used a varied attack, headed by their strongest fast bowling contingent to tour Australia, and brought off a series victory.

Pakistan have had the fast bowlers to trouble Australia but some misguided tactics have helped negate their skills. It probably didn’t help that the recent group of pace bowlers were vastly inexperienced and prone to being wayward but they weren’t helped by some putrid captaincy.

Even the best of bowlers have to be supported by thoughtful and strategic fields, which in turn help to boost the confidence of the leather flingers. The early spreading of the field under any circumstances is misguided but in Australia it can be terminal. Courtesy of the large boundaries, balls hit to deep point and square-leg (unless they are directly to a fielder) often result in twos and sometimes even threes. When that happens regularly and the good player inevitably finds the boundary, a fielding team leaks runs without putting any risk in the batting.

The type of fields set by Pakistan on the last three tours of Australia regularly depended on batsmen getting themselves out. Good batsmen resemble Scrooge at X’mas; they’re allergic to extending any magnanimous gestures.

Battle for overseas captains
It’s not only captains from the sub-continent that struggle in Australian conditions. On the last two Ashes tours both Alistair Cook and Joe Root were often lost for ideas. England’s plight was even more dire in 2013-14 as Cook regularly had Australia five down for less than 150 but he somehow managed to conjure up a 0-5 series result.

Despite doing a good job last tour and possibly overseeing an even better attack for next summer’s series, Kohli could face a different kind of challenge in Australia.

Cricket Australia are contemplating two day-night Tests for the 2020/21 Indian tour. However, if that ploy is meant to advantage Australia it may backfire as India has a strong attack and Kohli has already shown he’s adept at captaincy in this part of the world. Whatever the circumstances, teams touring Australia that underestimate the value of captaincy risk emulating the hapless Pakistan touring sides of the recent past.

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