Series preview – Australia v Pakistan: Summer sneaks upon us

“The Cricketer”
by Kate Birrell

 

The tendency of cricket marketing people to concentrate their promotional efforts on ‘blockbuster’ events is understandable, but it has its costs. In modern cricket terms, it imparts a certain implied inferiority on any series not involving England or India. Whilst this may reflect the commercial realities of a financially  unequal cricketing world, it doesn’t do justice to the quality of the other test playing nations, let alone promote the inherent virtues of test cricket itself. Modern administrators reflexively proclaim test cricket the sport’s pinnacle, without always giving the appearance they understand why. A cynic might suspect their real interests were more focussed on the bottom line rather than the batting crease.

 

So it is that the first Australian summer for a couple of years not to feature either England or India has crept upon most of us with muted fanfare.  Of course, that may also reflect a crowded itinerary constructed more out of obligation than any compelling purpose.

 

T-20 series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan have passed already, leaving little that will occupy our future memories. Under the reality of Cricket Australia’s new broadcast arrangements, they also escaped the attention of the vast majority of the cricket public. The only real benefit for the game in this situation would seem to be the clean air afforded to the Women’s Big Bash. Consequently, Ellyse Perry has been the real star of the summer thus far.

 

To be fair to those afore-mentioned marketers, they wouldn’t be the only ones to struggle to get a handle on the Pakistan cricket team. Given their combustible nature, common sense should dictate that you never bet good money on what Pakistan might do, though the historical record unfortunately proves many have. The country itself a product of violent partition, Pakistan’s cricket team is assailed by external and internal adversities that make it a small wonder they have remained competitive at all. That they have is due to the country’s enduring ability to produce outstanding individual cricket talent.

 

In selection terms, Pakistan could never be called risk averse. The inclusion of three teenage fast bowlers in their touring party reflects their willingness to back talent. It stands in stark contrast to an increasingly process and pathway driven Australian approach. It probably also reflects the reality of a much more poorly resourced domestic set up than Australia’s.

 

Pakistan’s batting seems a little less speculative. Captain Azhar Ali proved to be an all but immovable object when last seen in Australia three years ago. His recent record is rather less formidable, but should he recapture some of that form in the next two tests ha shouldn’t lack for support. Babar Azam’s test record to date only boasts one century, which would seem a poor return given his obvious talents. Yet he has batted on this tour like a player about to come into his prime. Asad Shafiq has also begun the tour with dual centuries in the warm up games. The challenge for all Pakistan’s batsmen will be to handle the frontline Australian pace attack on Australian wickets.

 

That pace attack will be the foundation of Australian plans for the summer. Beyond that, and a certain Steven Peter Devereux Smith, much remains uncertain. The retention of the Ashes during the winter was a considerable achievement in light of recent English tours, but the manner in which it was achieved left many questions about Australia’s way forward. Smith and Marnus Labuschagne apart, no batsman will wish to remember much of that series. Nor has the Shield season presented a wealth of choices. As a consequence, the top six batsmen for Brisbane appear to have been selected largely on reputation and intuition, rather than performance.

 

Complicating selection has been the loss of three possible contenders to mental health concerns. Some opponents might see grim irony in the long-time champions of ‘mental disintegration’ now revealing a few rendered seams themselves. This development clearly must bear some relationship to the gruelling treadmill that top level cricket now often resembles. But it may be more fully informative to consider each affected individual in context.

 

In the cases of Nic Maddinson and Glenn Maxwell, it wouldn’t seem outlandish to suggest that past vagaries of treatment by national selectors may have made some contribution to their current predicaments. As players who have also played across all three formats of the game, the risk of burnout for those that attempt this would seem to be reinforced. These are issues unlikely to be resolved any time soon.

 

In the case of Will Pukovski, there may be more promising indications. Both Pukovski’s willingness to recognise and admit the issue, and the support which Cricket Australia has provided, should be seen as positive developments. Cricket hasn’t always dealt well with such problems. It is at least showing signs of learning from past errors.

 

So, in the abbreviated manner of modern test series, two teams of uncertain quality face off in potentially ten testing days, spread across only the next fortnight. History in these conditions points to likely Australian victory, but if either side can manage a fast start at the ‘Gabba, the opponent may be stretched to recover in time. Should 16 year-old Naseem Shah be selected, and find himself bowling to Steve Smith, all the wonderful circumstance that test cricket accommodates will have found another entry. As test cricket frequently reminds us, almost anything can happen.

 

 

 

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About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he is in his 40th year as a Carlton member.

Comments

  1. John Butler says

    And on cue, I see young Shah has been picked!

    Looking forward very much to seeing him. I get the feeling Pakistan are going for it here.

  2. JB- thanks for your probing analysis. It probably suggests plenty about me, but the first test always takes me by surprise. And I often find myself hoping our opponents at home overachieve to put our ridiculous patriotism in a healthier place. Sorry, Channel 7 and Foxtel.

  3. Mickey, I reckon more than a few will get a shock to discover a test match on the TV tomorrow. If they can remember the channel.

    Its an interesting promo strategy CA has going for itself this summer.

    Cheers

  4. Luke Reynolds says

    Promotion of this series hasn’t been great, but really liked what I saw from the Pakistanis in the match against the CA XI. While there’s seemingly only hype for series involving India and England these days, I cannot wait to see New Zealand (and what is a very good New Zealand team) in a Test for the first time at the MCG this year.

  5. For those who may not know, Luke is referring to the NZ team currently ranked 2nd by the ICC reckoning.

    Luke, I get the feeling Pakistan are keen to make a statement – new skipper, new coach, fresh players.

    Given what we know of them from the past, it’ll probably be crash through or crash.

  6. Thanks for this JB. A good analysis.

    re Pucovski: long term, it is really concerning that on the two occasions that he was close to be being selected for the Test team, he suffered mental health issues. I hope I am wrong, but I don’t think this augers well for the future.

  7. Smoke, re Pukovski, I reckon that could be read several different ways.

    I think the promising aspect is the way all concerned have dealt with things. No guarantees in any of it, but the problem is better off acknowledged than hidden.

  8. JB outstanding basically agree with every word buggered how any one thinks the Marcel Marceau approach to marketing and promoting cricket works, mental health is a intriguing subject and one which is gradually being recognized and supported a long long way to go

  9. Agree totally, JB

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