Unsustainable view

The Aussies’ victory against Pakistan in the Sydney Test has been compared to wins over India and South Africa in the previous two campaigns. Ricky Ponting described the latest as the best of the bunch. Doubtless these remarks were made in the heady moment of success, writes Peter Roebuck.

Australia’s latest triumph at the SCG has been compared to their last ditch victories over India and South Africa in the previous two campaigns. Ricky Ponting described the win as the best of the bunch. Doubtless these remarks were made in the heady moment of success. The view is unsustainable. And the reason is simple. Pakistan were complicit in their own downfall. Moreover, the Australians did not raise their game in the critical hour; they simply refused to go away. Accordingly the fourth and final day of the contest was as unsatisfactory as it was gripping.

In all the years of watching Test matches it is hard to recall a team pursuing such lame tactics as did Pakistan in the denouement. Whereas the Indians met fire with fire and the Proteas fought with might and main and broken bone (and never mind that the series had been won) Mohammed Yousuf’s team went out with a whimper. Comparisons with the previous Tests are muddle headed.

As far as cricket is concerned this contest was vastly inferior to its predecessors. When it mattered most, Pakistan were dreadful. After three days of penetrating bowling backed up with astute field placements, they lost their nerve. Far from purposefully seeking the two remaining Australian wickets on the fateful fourth morning, they tried to stop Mike Hussey hitting boundaries, left themselves with two balls an over to dismiss Peter Siddle.

Naturally Hussey was delighted to be paid such a compliment. Hitherto his place has been in jeopardy. Now Pakistan seemed to regard him as an immoveable object.

Obliged to subdue only two balls an over, Siddle put his head down. Amazed to find his opponents running scared, he began to play a few shots. Hitherto Pakistan had taken 18 wickets for next to nothing in the match. Suddenly the same bowlers were asked to operate with seven men on the boundary. Even Siddle was given a deep point. It was an extraordinary tactic from a team driven not by a ruthless pursuit of victory but an agonised fear of defeat. And so the partnership continued. At no point did India or South Africa play remotely as badly as did Pakistan in these crucial hours.

Their batting was equally awful. During the match as many Pakistanis (8) were caught in the deep as whales. What a waste! The top order lost its head, including a captain criticised for not performing in the heat. Batsmen played errant strokes, the lower order slogged. Evidently, they had learnt nothing from Siddle’s defiance.

Meanwhile English tail-enders again saved a Test match. Former captains of various countries were aghast. Enthusiasts hate to watch bad cricket.

The Australians did not surpass themselves. Previously turnarounds of this sort have required extraordinary partnerships (Dravid and Laxman in Kolkata), blistering innings (Botham at Leeds) and/or astonishing spells of bowling (Wills and Harbhajan). Nothing of the sort happened in Sydney.

Hussey was his usual self, a mixture of grit and edge. His innings was too flawed to be highly praised. He was dropped four times by an inept ’keeper. Nathan Hauritz varied his pace and invited batsmen to destroy themselves, an opportunity they grabbed with both hands. No, the SCG was not an epic or Australia’s finest hour. As far as the hosts were concerned the match was dangerous because it might instil complacency.

For their part Pakistan need to review the tactics pursued towards the end, and to call their captain and coach to account. It was not the greatest of victories but it was the worst of defeats.