More than just a dead rubber

13 January 2010

Written by: Tom Cowie

Australia can consider themselves very fortunate.

Their opposition, Pakistan, is young, inexperienced and have literally forgotten how to win a game of test cricket (a problem which can be put down to a lack of test cricket in the last three years).

The second test in Sydney will always be the one that got away from Pakistan. And they only have themselves to blame.

Australian captain Ricky Ponting won the toss and decided to bat first on a grassy wicket. The decision was extremely risky, seeing that a green pitch plus overcast conditions equals a bowling paradise.

After the first innings, Pakistan was in complete control with a handy 206 run lead. However, with Australia on the ropes at 8-257 (effectively 8-51), Pakistan made some crucial mistakes on the fourth day.

Wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal dropped three catches, one of them a sitter, from the bat of Michael Hussey. But maybe even more severe was the decision by captain, Mohammad Yousuf, to set a defensive field to Hussey and instead attack underrated tail-ender Peter Siddle.

The consequences are as follows. Hussey scored 134 not out, Siddle scratched his way to 38 and the 123 run partnership meant that Pakistan had to chase an awkward target of 176 on the final day.

The rest, as they say in the classics, is history.

Pakistan crumbled under the pressure. A combination of poor shot selection from Pakistan and disciplined bowling and fielding from the Australians brought about a dramatic batting collapse.

When the dust had settled, Pakistan were on the end of a 36 runs defeat, a performance described by captain Mohammad Yousuf as ‘pathetic’.

Australia’s miraculous victory means they now have an unbeatable 2-0 lead in the series. But even though the final test – which begins on Thursday at the Bellerive Oval in Hobart – is now a ‘dead rubber’, both teams will look to finish off on a positive note on what has been a fascinating series.

Australia

Hussey’s hundred was timely. Since his debut in 2005, he has carved out a superhero-like reputation for producing a match winning innings when his country seems to have little chance of winning.

What made the hundred even more impressive was that he was personally under enormous pressure to make a big score. While he has made numerous starts in recent years, only one out of his last 39 innings has been converted into a hundred.

Hussey’s match winning innings in Sydney not only saved his team from defeat, but probably saved his career as well.

One man who did not help his poor form in Sydney was Marcus North. The number six batsmen’s low scores are starting to build up, with an average of only 20.4 from his last ten innings.

North will be under enormous pressure in Hobart to make a significant contribution. If he doesn’t deliver, the selectors may begin to look elsewhere.

From a bowling perspective, the Aussies look super solid, highlighted by the impressive Nathan Hauritz. The off-spinner claimed his second consecutive fourth innings five-wicket haul, further proving to his critics that he can be relied upon when wickets need to be taken late in a match.

Simon Katich has recovered from his elbow injury that kept him out of the Sydney test and he will replace fill-in opener Phillip Hughes.

Shane Watson, who was dismissed in the 90’s in Sydney for the third time this summer, and Simon Katich seem to now be gaining an understanding of each other after some awkward starts to an innings.

Here is how the side should lineup:

1.       Shane Watson

2.       Simon Katich

3.       Ricky Ponting (c)

4.       Michael Hussey

5.       Michael Clarke

6.       Marcus North

7.       Brad Haddin (wk)

8.       Mitchell Johnson

9.       Nathan Hauritz

10.   Peter Siddle

11.   Doug Bollinger

Pakistan

Salman Butt and Imran Farhat were impressive at the top of the order in Pakistan’s first innings with a gritty opening partnership of 109. If the two of them can continue to create a solid foundation at the top of the order, it will give the batsmen below them a significant amount of confidence.

Yousuf has to stand up in Hobart and play a captain’s innings. In the series so far, Yousuf has only averaged 37. He normally averages 53.6. He’s due for a big one and a flat batting pitch will help his case.

Pakistan lost Mohammed Aamer to a groin strain a day before the Sydney test, but his replacement, Mohammad Sami, was outstanding. In tandem with Mohammad Asif, the two fast men made full use of the bowler friendly conditions on the first morning by using pace, seam and swing to demolish the Australian batting lineup.

Umar Gul was also impressive, particularly in the second innings. However, Aamer is their best bowler, so it will be interesting to see who will make way for him. Sami seems to be the unlucky one who will most likely miss.

The big question at the selection table for Pakistan is what to do with wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal. His appalling performance behind the stumps in Sydney has forced the Pakistan Cricket Board to fly out a backup wicket-keeper, Sarfraz Ahmed.

However, Kamran is an experienced campaigner and Pakistan needs him for his batting. Allegedly, his exciting brother, Umar, went to the extreme of faking an injury in a protest to the potential dropping of Kamran for Sarfraz.

However, both Akmal brothers are likely to take the field.

Here is how Pakistan should lineup:

1.       Imran Farhat

2.       Salman Butt

3.       Faisal Iqbal

4.       Mohammad Yousuf (c)

5.       Umar Akmal

6.       Misbah-ul-haq

7.       Kamran Akmal

8.       Mohammad Aamer

9.       Umar Gul

10.   Mohammad Asif

11.   Danish Kaneria

The Pitch

Traditionally, the Bellerive Oval pitch has provided bowlers with early movement on the opening morning of a test match. However, as the days go by, it becomes much easier to bat on.

If you win the toss, it is best to bat first, endure those tricky conditions on the first morning and, once you’re settled at the crease, make full use of the perfect batting conditions on days two and three.

Who will win and why?

It’s hard to pick a clear winner. Pakistan will be determined to finish this series on a high. Now that Australia have wrapped up the series, it is the perfect for Pakistan to cash in on some possible complacency from the Aussies.

The team that wins will be the team who utilizes the perfect batting conditions the most. We’ll see a few hundreds from both teams as they try and bat each other out of the game. But with some potential rain forecast for later days four and five, it’s doubtful that a clear winner will be determined after the five days.

Result

Draw (Australia win series 2-0)

Ben Waterworth is a Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University. He also writes regularly for upstart about AFL.