SYDNEY: Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq pinpointed the last-day batting collapse in the second Test as the moment at which the series against Australia nosedived, yet put the blame chiefly on his bowlers for the 3-0 series whitewash.
Speaking after the third Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground which Pakistan lost by 220 runs, the 42-year-old Misbah said his team still had not recovered from their final day meltdown at Melbourne’s second Test to lose by an innings and 18 runs after scoring 443 in the first innings.
“The last day of the MCG was the biggest disappointment of the tour and we got demoralised from that and could not recover,” Misbah said. “This is how it is. Australia is not an easy place.”
Misbah, who has played 72 Tests and been Pakistan captain for the past six years, also identified his bowling attack had underperformed in Australia.
“Our bowling is always our strength but in this series I was a bit disappointed that we couldn’t take 20 wickets in any of the Tests,” Misbah said. “That’s why we were so behind in every game. That’s important for you in Australian conditions.
“It’s difficult for any Asian side to come here and take 20 wickets in a Test match. That’s an art and we could not do that and that mainly cost us the series.”
Opening batsman Azhar Ali was Pakistan’s most consistent performer in the series, scoring 406 runs at 80.20; the highest series aggregate ever by a Pakistan batsman in Australia.
Veteran Younis Khan scored an unbeaten 175 in Sydney to close in on 10,000 Test runs.
“A lot of positives in the batting, Azhar, Younis Khan, Sarfraz Ahmed, they played well here and scored some runs,” Misbah said. “Some of our tailenders scored runs, and in future that’s going to be good for them in their careers.”
The skipper said unfamiliarity with Australian conditions was a major factor in the series loss.
“It’s important for us to get experience of these conditions and if we are not touring more often in Australia and South Africa, that could happen again and again,” Misbah said. “I’ve already suggested that some of our players should be sent to Australia on a regular basis to play games here, to get used to these conditions at an early stage. This is the only way we can improve.
“If you are coming here after four or five or six years, seven or eight guys are coming here for the first time. Whether it’s a bowling unit or batting unit, we’re going to struggle.”
Australia captain Steve Smith, meanwhile, was delighted with the way his side rebounded from a series defeat to South Africa to sweep Pakistan 3-0 but warned their next Test campaign in India would present a challenge on a whole different level.
Back-to-back home defeats at the hands of South Africa in November took their Test losing streak to five matches, leaving Smith ‘humiliated’ and triggering something of a crisis in Australian cricket.
The result was the axing of half the team and a consolation victory over the Proteas in Adelaide before wins over Pakistan restored a semblance of normality to the home summer.
“It wasn’t great times but I’m really proud of the way the guys have come in and turned it around since then,” Smith told reporters. “I think we’ve played some very good cricket and that’s the kind of cricket that I want us to play.
“We’ve scored big runs in every game, every first innings. We’ve been able to build pressure with the ball, hit good areas and we’ve caught well this series, which has been a big focus of ours. It’s been a pretty good series for us.”
Although Smith has led by example with the bat, clinching man-of-the-Series honours after scoring 441 runs at an average of 110.25 with two centuries, he said he did not think he had changed much as a captain in the last two months.
“It’s always easier to say someone’s doing a good job when you’re winning games of cricket,” he said. “We’ve obviously turned the results around and we’ve been able to get some values into the group and things for the guys to sort of live by and everyone’s done that since they’ve come in and it’s been great.”
His vice-captain, David Warner, proved his fine form with a century in the opening session and a 23-ball half century, the second fastest ever, in the second innings in Sydney.
There were also maiden centuries for newcomers Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb in the series, while Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc confirmed their status as world class pacemen, albeit without setting the house on fire.
Those performances augur well for the home Ashes series at the end of the year but first comes a four-Test tour of India, where Australia have not won a series since 2004.
“It’s going to be a very difficult series going over there,” Smith added. “We’re under no illusions it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be a great challenge and learning curve for this group.
“I think the core of this group will take part in India. A few of us have been there before and we know it’s difficult play in their own backyard. They’re a very good team.”