Ah, the ‘positives’. You know a tour has gone pretty damn badly if an assessment of it centers not on what the losing team could have done to alter the outcome but on what scraps they can take from it which could possibly promise better returns in the future. Debating positives and saving graces and the like is an inherently negative exercise because implicit in such a discussion is the resentment that those positives weren’t in place when you needed them while, simultaneously, serving as a mechanism to gloss over and somehow diminish the impact of the negatives that truly defined the situation. You rarely hear of the negatives being dissected by a winning team but the positives are the antidote of a losing one.
I say all this because I’m well aware of the cliché of ending a tour where we were drubbed in the tests and edged out in the ODIs with an analysis about how menacing Mohammad Irfan is with the new ball and how consistently great Junaid Khan promises to be and how we may have overlooked the burgeoning talent of Asad Shafiq in our haste to declare Azhar Ali the second coming of Rahul Dravid. All these high points don’t change the fact that we were beaten in 3 consecutive tests does it?
Let’s put aside individual brilliance for the moment. Even in our darkest tours there have always been sparks of outright genius and promise simply because, despite the collective not always coming together as it should, we’ve always been a mostly talented bunch of individuals. But to focus on these singular positives can be misleading to the point of being detrimental. Sure Mohammad Irfan can be effective with the new ball but what are you going to do with that if your first change is a momentum-sponge like Tanvir Ahmed. Asad Shafiq may have the makings of a middle order rock but what’s the point if your top 3 can’t hold their own against good (to great) fast bowling?
For me, the broadest positive which can be taken out of the series is that it ended up going as badly as I (and most others) expected it to go before the tour started and yet, now that it’s over, and on retrospect, it pisses me off that it actually did go as badly as I thought it would. Does that make sense? I’m not trying to confuse anyone with circular logic. I didn’t expect that this tour would have ended with me feeling like we could have realistically gotten much more out of it and the fact that I do, the fact that we went up against the number one test side in the world in their backyard with little to no preparation and came out of it feeling like maybe we deserved a little bit better speaks volumes for the competitiveness the team managed to exhibit through significant portions of the tour.
Okay so maybe I’m now in danger of slipping into another cliché. Not the one about individual positives but the one about how we should be proud of the fight showed by the boys and how it all could have been different if we were better prepared or had all our first choice seamers fully fit at the same time or point to some other variable which could have altered the course of events. Truth is, if we had 10 warm up games before the first test and smuggled some nandrolone into Irfan and Gul’s diets, at the most we could have come out of this tour with one test victory to our name and most probably the ODI series. The overall outcome, however, would not have been much different. South Africa are the best side in the world in tests and effectively even in the limited overs format since there is no clear leader of the pack in the shorter versions of the game at the moment. They deserved to win and a result to our benefit would have been flattering to the point of being dangerous.
However, I will say this: there is a difference between a clean sweep and a whitewash and what happened in India around the same time was the fucking latter.
You won’t hear me saying this often in the realm of cricket but Pakistan owes India a debt of gratitude for timing their annihilation of Australia when they did as it serves to illustrate and contextualize how two series which end with similarly one-sided results can still be of a completely different character.
What happened to Australia was an abject failure. It was an embarrassment; a trainwreck; in prison terms they were taken to the back of the laundry room and relentlessly pounded. Hell, Shikhar Dhawan should be hauled to the Hague and made to answer for war crimes perpetrated against Australia in the third test. As Dileep Premadarchan tweeted, there are absolutely no positives Australia can take from this humbling. There were no bright spots; no sparks. Perhaps the absolute manner of their defeat is a perverse positive in itself because it has to be rock bottom for them hasn’t it? Surely they cant be any worse. Clearly the only way to go from here is up, right?
Whichever way Australia wants to spin it, doesn’t change the fact that essentially there were no redeeming aspects to emerge from a test series where India, not an exceptional test side by any means mind you, flattened them effortlessly and ruthlessly.
So that was a whitewash. What we were subjected to was a clean-sweep, from which I believe we emerged with our heads held relatively high though of course not titled straight up to the heavens.
Sure, we were destined to lose the test series, but can Australia dare suggest they deserved a slimmer margin of defeat, something we could legitimately make a case for? Aside of the third test where we suffered from the obvious and perhaps excusable complacency of having lost the series, the first and second tests were in no way a cakewalk for the no.1 test team. Our second innings capitulation in the first test should not surprise anyone following the South African bowling attack which has shredded England, Australia and New Zealand for comparably lackluster scores in the last 24 months. And in the second test, where we were without the services of the best left arm seamer in the world, we scrapped our way to a realistically winnable position before the inevitable rot in the shape of our inclement batting set in. Pakistan can at this point lay claim to being a competent test team and, for my money, the third best test side in the world, though admittedly that has more to do with India, Sri Lanka and Australia being fairly mediocre than it has to do with us being exceptional.
It would also be unfair to sweep over our performances in the ODIs and T20s just because we were “supposed” to be more competitive across those formats. With Pakistan, things rarely ever follow script which is why the team deserves a fair amount of credit for putting the test series behind them and managing to do what was expected of them when we played to our strengths in the shorter formats. Sure it went South Africa’s way in the end but the winning team did not come out of the ODIs as the clearly superior side and it feels kind of nice knowing that we stack up pretty evenly against a team which terrorized us in ODIs in the 90s and early 2000s. Just the fact that we can now view South Africa as a realistically beatable opponent in the shorter versions is growth to some extent.
But yeah, we lost, and it is what it is. No amount of half-assed approbation is going to change that and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Like I said earlier, a result our way would have been damaging given that it would afford management the opportunity to paper over certain cracks which have been allowed to persist unattended over the last two years in the safety of arid, flat pitches. Mohammad Hafeez has been sorely exposed as an opener to the point that it was getting a little ridiculous to see the pride Dale Steyn took in routinely picking up his wicket as if he was facing down our answer to Alistar Cook. I don’t see the selectors dropping him down the order in tests (or leaving him out altogether, which I wouldn’t) just yet, but his scant returns and repeated inability to adapt should finally eradicate the misplaced faith in Hafeez as an opener. If Asad Shafiq didn’t have the test series he did, an argument could perhaps still be made for the retention of Younis Khan in the ODI side. Alas, though it kills me to admit this, it’s frankly absurd that Younis is effectively keeping Asad and/or Umar Akmal out of the team. Afridi’s powers continue to wane to the point where we have entered Tendulkar-ian levels of denial while Hammad Azam languishes away in a Faysal Bank T20 game somewhere. If this tour can make the guys in charge focus on those issues, I’ll take that as a positive.
To sum up, I’m disappointed we didn’t win (or at least draw) a test and the fact that I can feel legitimately let down by that is frankly a credit to a team which didn’t get completely rolled over until the third test. The psychological hold South Africa have historically exerted over us is well and truly wearing off and, honestly, my major beef with this series is that it ends with Imran Farhat being assured of another run in the longer and shorter formats. So thanks India for helping put everything into perspective.