Make no mistake about it; Pakistan go into next week’s Test against Australia like sentenced men — unwitting lambs to the slaughter. The visitors have never won a Test series in Australia, are on a 12-Test losing streak Down Under that stretches back 24 years and have never won a Test at either Brisbane or Adelaide.
Those in the Pakistan camp will insist that history matters for little — what other choice do they have — but the present doesn’t paint too promising a picture either.
For one, Australia have way more experience in the bowling department. Three of Pakistan’s five pacers are under 20, while another is over 30. Between them, Pakistan’s five have played a total of 26 Tests while Australia’s four specialist pacers have 144 Tests under their belt. Yasir Shah’s 35 Tests makes the leg-spinner more experienced than Pakistan’s entire pace attack put together yet his tally is dwarfed by Australia’s spinner Nathan Lyon, who has played in 91 Tests.
Only Imran Khan and Yasir Shah have ever played a Test in Australia. The pacer took two wickets in two Tests at an average of 77 and strike-rate of 99. Yasir claimed eight wickets in three matches at an average of 84 and strike-rate of 111.1. Between their two most experienced bowlers, that’s not even a wicket every hundred deliveries.
Skipper Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and Yasir Shah remain in the side as remnants of better times, when the side ruled the Test world, not languished in seventh almost as an afterthought. Reminders of heady days when the Pakistan team celebrated victory with push-ups at Lord’s and Misbah-ul-Haq scored the then fastest century in Test history against Australia.
It hasn’t been long since Misbah took over as head coach but he never looked this helpless as captain. In Brisbane, he will most probably be forced to watch as his team is ripped apart in methodical and ruthless fashion; their morale, their confidence and bits of their dignity torn to shreds over multiple excruciating sessions.
The coach recently talked about the need for senior men to step up, and Azhar and Asad were the lone silver linings during the side’s last tour of Australia. Azhar scored an unbeaten double century in the second Test, while Asad Shafiq smashed a hundred in the first one. Pakistan lost the first game by 39 runs and the second by more than an innings. Even miraculous performances cannot guarantee miraculous results in this part of the world.
Babar Azam, the only other batsman in the side with more than 15 Tests to his name, had a nightmare tour of Australia at the start of his Test career. He scored 68 runs in three Tests at an average of 11.33. He is now older and wiser, one of the seniors now, and this might just be the time for him to announce himself at the Test level.
It won’t be easy though, with the attack that Australia have their disposal. Pat Cummins is most in his element in the longest format and the likes of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson provide a worthy support cast as the hosts assemble a formidable pace attack.
David Warner, too, has returned to form and will be looking to make up for lost time as well as a horror Ashes series. He made just 95 runs in 10 innings during the Ashes at an average of 9.5 but has since made 287 runs in six T20Is and been dismissed once in the process. This is now the Warner of the old, just angrier and meaner.
And then, of course, there is Steve Smith. Australia have other players too — legends, giants and elite athletes in their own rights — but they aren’t quite Steve Smith. No one is, because time and space do not bend for any other object like they bend for his bat. Pakistan will have to get him out twice if they are to win a match when better teams have broken down trying to get him out once.
But perhaps Pakistan not having a snowball’s chance in hell means they can play without pressure and unleash all of that mercurial talent that we keep hearing about. The Men in Green are known as cricket’s most unpredictable side but have always been predictably second best when touring Australia. The script seems almost set in stone, but if any team can upset the script makers, it is the one that will take to the Brisbane field as the decided underdogs.
There is nothing to lose and everything to win. For Azhar Ali and his band of seeming misfits, history beckons.