Boom Boom, Bust

Judging by Pakistan’s showing in the first of their neutral Test series against Australia at Lord’s, Headingley better be baking hot with bright sunshine and a dry pitch or they are pretty much screwed. Chasing a total of 440 was always going to be a pretty stiff task, but yet again, and with depressing predictability, a crumbling middle order failed to follow the example of Salman Butt in batting with anything resembling responsibility and Pakistan were bundled out to the tune of a 150-run loss. In hindsight, Butt’s innings of 63 and 92 look positively heroic.

Add to that captain Shahid Afridi’s resignation minutes after the end of the match and the confusion that followed – even Ricky Ponting had to ask a reporter what the heck was going on – and Pakistan cricket is in crisis. Again. I am saddened by Afridi’s resignation, though seeing the way he batted I understand his reasons  – “I have struggled to adapt to this form of the game,” he said – but quite what the resignation of the captain is supposed to do to the morale of a team that’s just been thrashed within 4 days is anyone’s guess.

I was at Day 1 of this Test, and while the weather was bloody cold, and the walk from Baker Street tube station seemed to take longer than last year, the upside was that things were looking pretty good for Pakistan at stumps. Mohammad Aamer was bending it like a banana. That added to the devastation caused by Mohammad Asif either side of tea, and Simon Katich’s gritty stickability and Michael Clarke’s elegant innings aside Pakistan looked in a strong position with Australia 229-9.

Pup cover drive

Michael Clarke drives

Day 2, and the days thereafter, were an utter disaster for Pakistan. The team is not short on young talent but they batted like Ritalin-deprived four-year-olds with attention deficit disorder, the captain being the most obvious culprit. Their abject display turned an intriguing match into an all-out drubbing. 148 all out first innings followed by an Australian second innings that set them 440 to win – yeah, all we misty-eyed romantics liked to fool ourselves there was a chance Pakistan could pull off the impossible and make history, but then we woke up.

A few of the main points that emerged for me from this Test:

Pakistan Cricket: Situation Normal, All Fucked Up.  Afridi never wanted to be the Test captain. He didn’t bat like he was the Test captain. Now he has resigned as Test captain. Salman Butt is the new captain. He will be Pakistan’s third captain in three Tests. As I said on Twitter while the Pakistan run chase was rapidly going tits-up, sometimes I think I have it tough being a Leicestershire fan; if I was a Pakistan cricket fan I’d be running myself a hot bath and looking for the razor blades.

That said, Mohammad Aamer: how good could this kid become? General consensus is that Wasim Akram wasn’t even as good as this guy when he was his age. That is, quite frankly, terrifying. Umar Akmal didn’t give us the big innings we’d have liked to have seen from him at Lord’s but we all know he is an exceptional talent. He will get his name engraved on the honours board at some point in the future, this is certain.

Speaking of the honours board, aye, we all had a bloody good laugh at the fact that while Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne’s names are nowhere to be seen, Shane Watson and Marcus North’s names are (initial reaction from many on Twitter on news from Lord’s that Shane Watson’s was the first name on the new neutral honours board: “Burn it”). But you have to hand it to Ponting, when the front-line bowlers weren’t doing the job – when the ball wasn’t swinging or seaming the bowling was utterly innocuous – it was the part-timers who delivered. While the whole four/five bowlers debate goes on as regards England’s Ashes line-up, Ponting seems to like the challenge of conjuring something out of nothing in a way I can’t imagine Andrew Strauss would. Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen can turn their arm over (there’s also Collingwood’s off-cutters but that shoulder is a worry) but that’s not really seen as a serious option.

Ricky Ponting is still a sore loser. While all the talk was of that elbow barge between him and a celebrating Mohammad Aamer, no one seems to have noticed the fact he walked deliberately into Mohammad Asif’s upraised arm while the bowler was celebrating with his team mates with his back turned. There is no way Asif could possibly have seen him. It’s like that bit in the Simpsons where Bart starts windmilling his arms around and says: “If you get hit, it’s your own fault.” Lisa responds: “Ok, then I’m going to start kicking the air like this. And if any part of you should fill that air, it’s your own fault.” For christ’s sake!

Mohammad Asif

Mohammad Asif

Finally, the debutants. Azhar Ali and Umar Amin showed promise in the second innings but given their youth and inexperience, their inclusion was always going to be a gamble. It’ll be interesting to see if they can bounce back at Headingley.

Tim Paine, who I bigged up in my last post, did a sterling job with the gloves on debut. Tidy and athletic with a couple of good diving stops he pulled off a smart stumping to get rid of Salman Butt in the second innings. He was nervous as hell when I watched him bat on the first day – “I couldn’t feel my feet,” he said afterwards – and this was reflected in his 7 runs off 46 balls, but he did a lot better with 47 in the second innings and there is no question he belongs at this level. Brad Haddin should watch out, because this kid’s going to be breathing down his neck from now on. Steve Smith, orthodox legspinner, unorthodox batsman, also acquitted himself well with 3 wickets, and given he is only 21, shows every sign of maturing into a fine cricketer.

Paine gets a boundary

Paine gets a boundary

Who knows what Headingley will bring? For once I’d like to see a settled Pakistan team give a good account of themselves while making good on all the talent and potential the team possesses. The weather doesn’t bode well, with overcast conditions, rain and even thunder forecast for the next few days, but it’d be nice to see a decent contest rather than a one-sided hammering. We’ll see.

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