“Champion teams of Test cricket, be it Don Bradman’s Invincibles, Clive Lloyd’s Windies or the more recent Australian sides of the 1990s and 2000s always scored quickly, thus giving their bowlers enough time to bowl the opposition out twice”
There are nuances, variations, intricacies, complexities that give cricket a unique distinction. Especially five day cricket, with its many ebbs and flows of fortune, the curious dimension of time and its effect on the conditions, pitch and the game, the shift in balance between the bat and the ball, the oscillating preference for pace and spin, the effect of the cloud and rain, and so on. Yes, all these make Test cricket a fascinating game.
But, in spite of all these layers that give rise to ‘experts’ of various sorts of vagueness, the sport remains a simple one. In order to win, a team needs to score more than the other, and have enough time in order to take 20 opposition wickets.
At Dubai, Pakistan simply did not manage to do both.
They made the runs. They were helped in an enormous measure by the Australian batsmen who found ways to squander a splendid start to collapse sensationally. They got a huge first innings lead. They built the lead into a nearly insurmountable one. Yes, they made sure that they got scores that would be more than the opposition could manage.
But, in spite of the Australian first innings collapse, and rather ordinary performance by the Marshes of the middle order in the second essay, they could not dismiss them in time to win the match.
Simply put, they batted way too slowly. Especially on a deck that was as placid as the one at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, runs procured at less than 3 an over was beyond justification.
Pakistan did not lose their first wicket till the score was 205. That was the sort of start given by Mohammad Hafeez and Imam-ul-Haq. Yet, batting all through the first day, the side got to 255 for 3, made at a rate of 2.83 per over. Inexplicable. Curiously, this approach was equated in some quarters as ideal Test match batting.
The following day, Haris Sohail and Asad Shafiq took their time to make the runs. One got a hundred, other 80. But their 150-run association, which pushed the total past 400, consumed almost 50 overs. The 482-run innings saw the batsmen scoring at 2.93 per over, quite unusual in modern-day cricket.
What that meant was on a flat deck, the bowlers were left with just about three days, minus whatever time Pakistan would take over their second innings, to bowl the Australians out twice.
Yes, the Australian batsmen helped along. From 142 without loss, made again at a rather dismal pace without really getting on top of the bowling, they managed to be all out for 202. Handing out an enormous 280-run lead.
Perhaps, given the extreme heat of Dubai, it made sense to bat again and not to impose the follow-on. But Pakistan went about getting their runs in the most sedate manner possible.
True, they lost three quick wickets. But one must remember that one of those was of the night watchman. And they led by 280 in any case. Was such a cautious approach justified?
But for the Asad Shafiq-Babar Azam partnership, which stepped on the accelerator somewhat and produced 71 in 18 overs, the run-rate had hovered below 3.
By the time the total stood at an aggregate which made Sarfraz Ahmed confident enough to declare, we were almost halfway through the fourth day. The 10 overs after lunch could have been largely avoided. A bit of urgency in the batsmen, 10 more overs for the Australians, and the result could have been very different.
The Marsh brothers did do their best to turn the match Pakistan’s way in spite of Usman Khwaja’s vigil. But as Pakistan found out on the last day, there was not enough time to force the result.
Perhaps the field was not attacking enough, perhaps the bowling changes lacked imagination. Those are slightly intangible issues which tend to underline supposed knowledge and expertise of the breed of ‘specialist cricket watchers’. There can be arguments and opinions which can never be proved and can settle in individual pockets of irrevocable conclusions.
However, the more simple truth is that Pakistan made the runs too slowly and that left their bowlers less than enough time to get the 20 wickets.
Cricket, the complex game, is made more intricate with its multiple formats. It is a purist fad to devalue the characteristics of limited overs cricket. And the facet of ODIs and T20s that come under constant attack from supposed ‘Test aficionados’ is aggressive batting. It is often quite interesting to see slow batting being elevated to an esoteric art-form by ‘experts and critics’ because that is, through curious delusion, taken as Test-standard.
The truth can hardly be any different.
Champion teams of Test cricket, be it Don Bradman’s Invincibles, Clive Lloyd’s Windies or the more recent Australian sides of the 1990s and 2000s always scored quickly, thus giving their bowlers enough time to bowl the opposition out twice. Most great batsmen with the onus on winning matches have also scored at a decent rate.
Slow, sedate approach is not the way to win Test matches. It is generally apt for weak sides with the focus on drawing from the first day. Though, with the number of overs mandatorily fixed to 90 per day and the pace at which the better sides make the runs, the draw is a difficult result to obtain these days and has almost gone out of the equation.
This Test in Dubai was a classic demonstration of how slow batting can really work against the scheme of things if indulged in by the side on top. It is not the way to win matches, period.
Intent, aggression and purposefulness in batting are essential to force a result. Especially on wickets that do not provide sufficient assistance to the bowlers. Sadly, this was conspicuously absent in the Pakistan approach.
Lastly, the turnout for the Test in Dubai was really disappointing … (by some accounts the match officials, twenty odd spectators and a goat). And this sort of batting, against a largely innocuous bowling attack, is not going to bring them out in large numbers to cheer for the game.