Careless Pakistan need to find spirit of 1992 after Australia defeat

By Sports Desk June 12, 2019

At the 1992 Cricket World Cup, Pakistan produced an impressive and unlikely turnaround in their fortune to secure glory.

Imran Khan's cornered tigers played more like kittens when bowled out by England for 74 in Adelaide, only to be saved by rain. Defeats to India and South Africa followed, leaving a team minus key bowler Waqar Younis through injury and led by a patched-up captain on life support.

However, the resuscitation began with a 48-run triumph over Australia at the WACA, signalling the start of a five-match winning streak that climaxed with the final in Melbourne. From seemingly certain to miss out on the knockout stages, they rallied to be crowned champions.

This year's edition of the tournament has reverted to a similar structure to the one used 27 years ago - and, once again, Pakistan find themselves in a precarious situation.

Wednesday's 41-run defeat to Australia leaves Sarfraz Ahmed's struggling side sitting on three points after four games. Their top-four hopes are not yet over, but Pakistan missed a glorious opportunity at Taunton, particularly after their last match - against Sri Lanka - was washed out.

Make that several opportunities actually, as catches went down in the field and promising partnerships in their run chase were curtailed by poor shot selection. This was a game where Pakistan once again showed their Jekyll-and-Hyde nature when the situation called for consistency and control.

They won the toss and bowled first in seam-friendly conditions yet had to wait until the start of the 23rd over to get a breakthrough. The recalled Shaheen Afridi was too often off target and while both Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz had their moments, Australia's openers managed to put on a partnership worth 146.

Amir eventually made the breakthrough, picking up the first of his five wickets as Pakistan improved considerably in the second half of the innings, bowling their opponents out for 307 with an over to spare.

After Fakhar Zaman fell early in the reply, the rest of the top five all made starts only to perish in frustrating fashion. Babar Azam (30) looked in glorious touch before falling into Kane Richardson's short-ball trap, Mohammad Hafeez (46) only found a fielder with a full toss from Aaron Finch and Imam-ul-Haq (53) gloved what would have been a wide through to wicketkeeper Alex Carey.

Sarfraz revived a flagging chase with the aid of some lusty blows from the lower order – Hasan Ali made 32 from just 15 deliveries, while Wahab once again relished a battle against Australia, making 45 – but the innings was summed up by the final wicket, the skipper run out by Glenn Maxwell's direct hit at the non-striker's end following confusion over a single.

"We conceded too many runs first 20 overs, except for Amir the other bowlers did not bowl well, 270-80 was par," Sarfraz said at the presentation ceremony, before going on to confirm they were not much better with the bat.

"If we want to win, the fop four have to make runs. Imam made fifty, Babar made 30, but the top four must score runs."

The talismanic Imran found a way to bring his troops together in '92 and Sarfraz must oversee a similar recovery, starting with Sunday's huge clash against India at Old Trafford.

Their rivals will relish the opportunity to push Pakistan closer to the exit door in a campaign that, bar a stunning and unexpected win over hosts England, has yet to suggest they have what it takes to be crowned champions again.

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    Delving a little deeper, the five Tests made clear the obvious flaws in both teams, but also demonstrated their strengths. Now, though, they can draw breath, recharge their batteries and start thinking about the future.

    Australia, who retained the Ashes courtesy of a 2-2 series draw, return to the Test arena against Pakistan in late November and with spots up for grabs, all eyes will be on the start of the Sheffield Shield season. England, meanwhile, have tours to New Zealand and South Africa to look forward to before the year is out.

    Having examined the state of both squads at different stages during the year, we now offer one final assessment while also looking ahead to the future.

     

    BATTING

    Not even retaining the urn has been enough to silence the questions that were already there before the Ashes about Australia's batting.

    Smith's heroics were enough on this occasion, but coach Justin Langer has work to do going forward.

    David Warner, who should be Australia's second-best batsman, became Stuart Broad's bunny, making just 95 runs at an average of 9.50 during the series and falling to the England paceman seven times.

    Between Warner, Cameron Bancroft and Marcus Harris, Australia's opening stands during the Ashes were an average of 8.50 runs, immediately putting themselves under early pressure.

    Marnus Labuschagne was a revelation after getting his chance, scoring 353 runs at an average of 50.42 to cement his place in Australia's top-order. But, going forward, places are up for grabs.

    Matthew Wade combined two centuries with eight scores of 34 or less, while Travis Head (who averaged 27.28) and Usman Khawaja (20.33) were both dropped during the series.

    Harris and Wade top-scored in the Shield last season, but the likes of Kurtis Patterson, 26, Will Pucovski, 21, and Jake Lehmann, 27, should all be sensing an opportunity.

    Given the others have failed to take their chances, albeit in tough conditions, perhaps the time has come to build around Smith and Labuschagne while preparing for the future.

    Like their opponents, England have gaps to fill in the top six.

    Rory Burns (390 runs at 39) had success at the top of the order, but the gamble on Jason Roy failed to pay off. Joe Denly may have received a stay of execution with his 94 at The Oval, but it is hard to see how a 33-year-old who has spent recent domestic seasons further down the batting list is the long-term answer.

    Joe Root had made clear in the past that three is not his favoured role, so it will be interesting to see if Trevor Bayliss' replacement is happy to drop him one position lower.

    The team's success in the longest format has often come courtesy of rearguard actions in difficult situations, but the time has come to start batting big.

    Stokes (441 runs at 55.12) showed the way with two second-innings hundreds, but Jonny Bairstow has reached 50 only once in his last 14 Test innings and Jos Buttler is in the strange position of being picked as a frontline batsman that comes in at seven.

    A busy winter schedule offers an opportunity to blood some fresh faces. Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley are the two openers regularly talked about as possible candidates to have a go alongside Burns. 

    Ollie Pope is waiting for another crack at international cricket, while Ben Foakes could return behind the stumps for the struggling Bairstow, who should perhaps consider giving up the gloves to focus completely on his batting. 


    BOWLING

    Unlike their batting, Australia's bowling is far more settled and with good reason.

    Pat Cummins won the Allan Border Medal in February and the paceman showed he can lead his nation for years to come. The 26-year-old played all five Tests – a fine feat for a player with his injury history – and was comfortably the leading wicket-taker in the Ashes with 29.

    Cummins took his 29 wickets at an average of 19.62 and economy rate of 2.69.

    Such is the depth and talent in Australia's attack, Mitchell Starc played just one Test, selectors perhaps looking elsewhere to capitalise on the English conditions.

    Josh Hazlewood has long been expected to be the man in such situations and he grabbed 20 wickets at 21.85 in four Tests.

    Peter Siddle and James Pattinson played three and two Tests respectively and while their spots are far from certain, the ability of the attack to deliver as a unit would have pleased Langer.

    They were helped by Nathan Lyon, who bowled more overs than anyone else on his way to 20 wickets at 33.40.

    Siddle (34) is the oldest of the group, but Cummins, Hazlewood (28), Starc (29) and Pattinson (29) look to have several years ahead of them in an excellent sign for Australia. Even Mitchell Marsh took his chance with the ball in the fifth Test, grabbing seven wickets, although the all-rounder is often criticised for his performances.

    The bowling was expected to be Australia's strength during the series and it proved just that, with few signs of it being an area of concern going forward.

    Similarly, for England, there are reasons to be cheerful over the attack. Broad benefited from the chance to hone his skills in county cricket prior to the Ashes - and went on to torture Warner and the rest of the left-handers.

    While his regular new-ball partner prospered, James Anderson endured a wretched campaign. Forced off after four overs of the opening Test with a calf injury, the Lancastrian failed to reappear in the rest of the series. He remains committed to playing at the highest level again, but England should not need to rush their leading wicket-taker back.

    That is mainly because of the emergence of the blistering Archer. He claimed 22 wickets in four Tests, knocked down the seemingly immovable Smith at Lord's and provided an added dimension to an attack otherwise lacking variety.

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    The captain-coach axis must also work out what they see as the future role for Moeen Ali, a player far too talented to be left languishing outside of the national set-up.


    CURRENT OUTLOOK

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    For England, the preparations for the tour Down Under in 2021-22 should begin immediately, or else they may be waiting a little longer to get the urn back.

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