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Blog: ‘Historically’ yours!

Australia: Pakistan Cricket team is visiting Australia for the 12th time, to play ‘five-day’ matches. They have never won a ‘Test series’ there, but have surely ended up drawing a couple of times. Even the toughest sides have failed to emerge victorious in Australia. There is a strong chance that the present side, with a coach who has something to prove, might return home as winners.

There have been five such tours when Pakistan had to make a combined tour of Australia and New Zealand. Call it luck, or unpredictability of the Men-in-Green (even bad luck of the opponents), that whenever there were results, they were poles apart. Strange was the fact that the squad and the conditions were virtually the same.

Pakistan first embarked on such a ‘twin tour’ in November 1964. With a team, which nearly had half of the members going abroad for the first time, remaining unbeaten throughout the four tests in itself was an achievement. Hanif Muhammad scored one century in the only Test in Australia, missed his second ton of the match by seven runs, and scored another in New Zealand. As legend goes, ‘when Hanif scored a ton, the opponents rarely won’.

With the advent of ODI cricket, the game changed completely in the next decade. The dullness of the 60s was gone and the results became frequent. Pakistan next went for a combined tour in 1972/73. They were whitewashed in Australia, but, on the second leg of the tour, emerged as winners. The win at Dunedin was due to massive hundreds by Mushtaq Muhammad and Asif Iqbal, and 11 wickets by skipper Intikhab Alam. This also was Pakistan’s first ever overseas win in Test Cricket.

It was in 1978/79 when a full-strength Pakistan first toured New Zealand and then had to face a weak Australian squad.

Pakistan won the 3-match series 1-nil in New Zealand. Centuries from Majid Khan, Asif Iqbal and Javed Miandad were overshadowed by seven catches in an innings by the ever-agile Wasim Bari at Auckland. On the second leg of the tour, Pakistan, for a change, started with a win. Majid Khan scored a century at Melbourne, but victory in Pakistan’s hundredth test was achieved due to the 9 wickets in the second innings by Sarfaraz Nawaz, who did the magic with his reverse swing. Australia, with seven wickets in hand and only 77 runs needed for victory, were bamboozled by ‘Big Saf’ who took last seven wickets for just one run.  The Aussies were without the Chappells, Dennis Lillie, Greg Thompson, Rodney Marsh or even Max Walker, who tormented their batting attack way back in 1972. They looked more like the Pakistan squad which toured England the previous year, yet this mediocre side managed to draw the series against one of the toughest Pakistan contingent to have toured Australia. Pakistan lost the second test by seven wickets at Perth, ending the series in a draw. This is the only match in the career of the great Javed Miandad, where his century ended up for a losing side.

The Perth Test is famous for its controversial decisions. Non-striker Andrew Hilditch was given out handled ball at the appeal of Sarfaraz Nawaz. It happened for the first time that a non-striker was given out for ‘handling the ball’. This must have been in retaliation to a similar incident earlier, when Sikander Bakht, Pakistan’s No. 11, was run out by Alan Hurst for backing up too far. Asif Iqbal was stranded at 134, and the decision was vital in changing the course of the match. Had Asif stayed for another 60 runs, a target of 300 would have created problems for the weak Australian side, and Pakistan could have won their first series down under, 37 years back.

The next time such a tour happened was in summer of 1995, Australian Summer. It took place in the aftermath of bribery allegations by Shane Warne and Mark Waugh against former Pakistani captain Saleem Malik. Malik, an excellent fielder, was injured in the first test while taking a sharp catch. Pakistan lost the opening test by an innings and the next one in Hobart by 155 runs, but the whitewash was averted when Ijaz Ahmed, who was inducted in place of his brother-in-law Saleem Malik, struck a timely hundred. This was Ijaz’s second of his three centuries in Australia. The man who was the tormentor-in-chief was leg spinner Mushtaq Ahmed who took nine wickets in Sydney. This was Pakistan’s last victory on Australian soil. Beaten 2-1, Pakistan travelled to New Zealand, but as history suggests, Pakistan won the only test at Christchurch by 161 runs. Ijaz Ahmed, in the form of his life, scored the second century of the tour and Mushtaq Ahmed captured 10 wickets in a test for the first time in his life.

The last time Pakistan went on a twin tour was in 2009, and the team was being led by Muhammad Yousuf. This was the year when Sri Lankan team was attacked in Lahore and Cricket at home got suspended. The series, supposed to be played in Pakistan, was rescheduled in New Zealand. Despite not being the best of captains, Yousuf religiously followed history. ‘Pakistan did not end up as a losing side on both legs of the tour’.

Pakistan’s tour began with three Tests in New Zealand. They lost the first test by a mere 32 runs, despite Umar Akmal’s century on debut. Nine wickets by Muhammad Asif were the highlight of the next test, which helped in leveling the series. Imran Farhat carried his bat in Pakistan’s first innings of the final test, becoming the fourth Pakistani after Nazar Muhammad, Mudassar Nazar and Saeed Anwar to do so. He scored 117 out of eventual 223 runs. The deciding Test was ‘saved’ by rain and Pakistan arrived in Australia as a side who had just drawn a series.

Pakistan were beaten fair and square in the first test at Melbourne by 170 runs, but lost the chance to level in Sydney. It was all due to the ‘butter fingers’ of the vice-captain Kamran Akmal, who let the match slip through. Akmal dropped Michael Hussey three times to give Australia a chance to sneak back. Hussey was involved in a 123-run ninth wicket ‘match-changing’ partnership with Peter Siddle, and eventually ended up scoring a century. Australia completed the whitewash by defeating Pakistan in the final test at Hobart, which also saw the debut of Sarfaraz Ahmed behind the stumps.

Pakistan team is ready to face Australia, nearly after seven years, in Tests. Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s most successful test captain, is leading a side which was, just couple of months back, top ranked in Tests. Mickey Arthur, the former South African coach who has also coached Aussies for three years, is part of the Pakistani contingent. He was the man behind unprecedented nine consecutive test series wins for South Africa as well as the one who guided them to a series win against Australia in Australia in 2008. Arthur joined Australian Cricket in November 2011 but was sacked in mid-2013. He has to avenge his sacking at the hands of the Australian Cricket Board, and he might coach his ‘adopted’ team to do it.

Pakistan are scheduled to play Tests in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. They have just won the opening match of the tour by a massive 201 runs. It was under lights, with a pink ball, and experiments are a good omen for them.

Brisbane will see its first day/night test match with a pink ball this season. Over the years, ‘day/night’ experiments have been lucky for Pakistan. Be it a World Cup under lights or an indoor-series, a decade later. Brisbane Test is going to be Pakistan’s first day/night Test in Australia, and can help in giving them a rare win. Their win at Cairns, against Cricket Australia XI, was largely due to their pacers and the Men-in-Green just have to hold on to their ‘catches’ to win the ‘matches’.

On the other hand, Australia just averted a whitewash at the hands of the Proteas. They lost the first two tests, winning the last owing to ‘leniency’ of the opponents. Their recent trip to Sri Lanka still gives them nightmares. They have been badly exposed by very good teams, and now could be the time to be exposed by a coach with a vengeance.

Others have plans too. Younis Khan, Pakistan’s highest run-getter, needs to make this tour memorable by scoring the remaining 321 runs to become the first Pakistani to score 10,000 runs in Test Cricket. Younis, in his second and probably the last tour of Australia, is still without a hundred there. He has scored centuries against every Test playing nation, but the Australian pitches still elude him. There is Muhammad Amir, the fast bowler who was suspended for spot-fixing in 2010, who has to prove his worth, while the ‘debutant of Sydney, the last meeting’, Sarfraz Ahmed has transformed into the team’s most dependable and explosive player.

West Indies, England and even New Zealand have beaten Australia in Australia, in Test series. No Asian team so far has the guts to achieve this feat. Pakistan have been beaten and bruised in New Zealand, for the first time over 30 years. This can be the moment which may give them the required ‘jump’ in the land of Kangaroos.

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