Pakistan coach and team director Mohammad Hafeez found himself in a critical mood at the press conference immediately following the first Test against Australia. Freshly smarting from a 360-run defeat sealed with a 30-over batting display that saw his side skittled out for 89 with a day and change to go, it was perhaps just as well, because there was plenty to be critical of.
But the squarest aim he took was at Pakistan’s batting approach, particularly in the first innings, saying the batters failed to apply themselves and stick to their pre-match plans.
“Well, we couldn’t execute our skills well,” Hafeez said. “We made plans for the team, but unfortunately we couldn’t execute them well. That’s not an excuse. The guys wanted to, but they never applied themselves, to be very honest. As a team there were a couple of tactical errors we made during this Test match. There were certain situations where we could have dominated, and as a team, the plans were there and we prepared ourselves for that. But the execution wasn’t great.”
A cynic might wonder if Hafeez, only recently appointed to his roles, ahead of a tour to a country he has never played a Test match in, was looking to establish a buffer between the playing group and the management group. Pakistan do, after all, still have on their books Mickey Arthur, a man who coached the West Australian state side for nearly two years, in addition to overseeing a Test win in Perth and a series win in Australia as coach of South Africa. And while that might have made little difference – when Arthur was coach of Pakistan, they still lost an away series in Australia 3-0 – the PCB’s decision not to send him on this tour has thrown the rawness of the new-look coaching staff into sharper focus.
Last week, when Pakistan were training at the WACA, Hafeez had gone after the surface laid out for Pakistan in Canberra for the first-class game they played against the Prime Minister’s XI, calling it the “slowest pitch a visiting team could have faced in Australia”. He also promised a brand of cricket that would see Pakistan take the attack to Australia, particularly Nathan Lyon. As it turned out, though, no Australian bowler took more wickets than Lyon’s five, which came in 32 overs at an economy rate of 2.50.
Hafeez defended Pakistan’s plans and preparations, and once more rued their inability to execute them.
“The Canberra pitch was totally different. But this pitch, obviously, as you expect in Perth, there was bounce and a little lateral movement. And that was obviously what we’ve seen during the last four days. But the amount of deterioration we witnessed, I wasn’t expecting that much because on the fourth day the deterioration in the pitch was really high. But still, we believe it was a good toss to the win for Australia. They managed to put runs on the board and then obviously batting in the fourth innings and on the fourth and fifth day is going to be a real challenge and we couldn’t do that, to be honest.
“You can say that [the plans we made weren’t followed], but not really that much. I believe that the message is very clear. And as I said to you earlier, we prepared accordingly. In the last 20 days of my role, the message was very, very clear to everyone.”
It appears to be something Pakistan’s leadership group agrees upon. Captain Shan Masood at the post-match press conference also pointed to the side’s sluggish scoring rate, while mentioning they’d batted nearly as many overs as Australia in the first innings – 101.5 compared to the hosts 113.2.
“When you come to these shores you look for progress,” Masood said. “If you had told me that Australia would have batted 110 overs and we would play 100 overs, I would have taken that as a batting unit.”
While Pakistan’s scoring rate isn’t particularly notable in its own right – no side will ever find taking the game to the Australian attack easy on their own shores – the variance between what Pakistan promised before the game and what they delivered is. With Hafeez and Masood both committing to an exciting brand of cricket, Pakistan instead found themselves bogged down right from the get-go, barely managing above two an over for the opening partnership.
Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq did hold out for 36 overs in the first innings without giving away a wicket, though Masood felt more urgency might have put a different spin on the game. “We could have batted a bit quicker, even though we were facing one of the best bowling attacks in the world. We probably missed out on 60-70 runs, which could have made the lead a bit less sizeable.”
Masood, for his part, did stick to that method, coming down the wicket to wallop Lyon for a boundary off his second ball. The scoring rate did tick up – thanks largely to him – during a brief partnership with Imam, though expansive drives led to his downfall in each innings. And a score of 32 across two innings of the Test – the lowest for any specialist Pakistan batter in Perth – suggests taking on this Australian attack may require more than wanton belligerence.
Hafeez had struck a particularly optimistic tone ahead of the Test and continued in the same vein, the defeat seemingly doing little to subdue it. “I said to you earlier that the vibe I got from the preparation and the amount of talent these guys have, there’s no doubt the guys can beat Australia in Australia. But obviously execution-wise we couldn’t do that. The plan was there, we prepared things accordingly and I still believe as a team that Pakistan can beat Australia here in Australia. Obviously as a team we need to execute our skills whenever it requires.
“There are a lot of positives in this game. The two debutants [Aamer Jamal and Khurram Shahzad], the way they bowled, the way they showed the passion to represent Pakistan, that is very special and heartening to me. I really enjoyed personally the way they did and they were presenting themselves for every challenge and they are the most positive side we had during this test match. Unfortunately, our premier fast bowlers couldn’t do well in this game, but this can happen to anyone. But I’m sure these guys will come harder in the next game.
“It might take some time. But gradually we will get up there where I feel like we know, ‘this is the way to play international cricket at the moment.'”
It is time Pakistan may not have, at least not in this series. In a little over a week, Pakistan play a Boxing Day Test at the MCG, their losing streak in Australia now stretching to 16 Tests. It will require little short of a miracle or a freak weather event not to see that extend to 17.