By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Bringing two uncapped teenage pace bowlers to Australia, a nation unconquered by the greatest of Pakistan sides, was never going to end well for Azhar Ali’s team.
For coach Misbah-ul-Haq, the selections of 16-year-old Naseem Shah and 19-year-old Muhammad Musa reflected a need for “boldness” in a team that has fallen steadily down the world rankings in recent years.
The 2-0 whitewash by Tim Paine’s side, completed with another innings defeat in Adelaide on Monday, exposed all that for bravado, and Pakistan return home with more regrets than highlights.
Their bowlers had only two cracks at the Australian batsmen and may well have been glad for that, having leaked nearly 1,200 runs in two innings for the return of 13 wickets.
Naseem and Musa managed one wicket between them, legspinner Yasir Shah conceded 100 runs for each of his four scalps and the team’s most experienced quick, Mohammad Abbas, was worryingly down on pace when recalled at Adelaide Oval.
Of the bowlers, only Shaheen Afridi leaves Australia with reputation enhanced, the 19-year-old talent having produced some fiery spells to top his team’s wicket-takers with five victims.
While Pakistan have rarely looked less capable of breaking their test series drought in Australia, a rueful Azhar could at least see a brighter future as the squad’s raw talent matures.
“We didn’t live up to the expectations that were based around this young team,” the skipper told reporters.
“But we felt that these guys were in the best shape to deal with the conditions here, and that’ll be the case in the future.
“We shouldn’t get too disappointed about this and keep in mind that young bowlers like these will only play more cricket and get better. We need to show some patience.”
Pakistan will take some solace that the future has already arrived in the form of Babar Azam, who came to Australia as the world’s top T20 batsman and departs as a proven test performer.
The 25-year-old has been a slow-burning talent in the longest format, but after carving out 104 in Brisbane and 97 in Adelaide on the home pitches of one of the world’s most potent attacks, he will head into the upcoming series against Sri Lanka brimming with confidence.
“He’s been tremendous in white-ball cricket and in the recent past, he’s been gradually building up his test stats as well,” Azhar said of Babar.
“But this series definitely will be the breakthrough he wanted.”
Disappointment for Azhar’s team will soon turn into an unfamiliar joy when they play Sri Lanka in Rawalpindi and Karachi later this month, the first tests in Pakistan since militants attacked a bus convoy carrying the Sri Lanka team in Lahore in 2009.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)