Pakistan ready to bury ghosts of the past

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‘We were not upto our standards recently’ – Misbah

Pakistan can’t win this Test series.

Recent results suggest it, logic confirms it and history guarantees it

Consider their lead-in as a form guide: a two-Test hammering by New Zealand in conditions far closer to those in Australia than those of the UAE. In Christchurch and Hamilton, the much-lauded Pakistan seam attack was outseamed by those pesky Kiwis and their batsmen were befuddled by the moving ball. Only three Pakistan batsmen – Babar Azam, Azhar Ali and Sami Aslam – managed to pass 50. None of them made it to a century. Yasir Shah, one of their most potent and reliable weapons, was neutralized in the first Test, didn’t play the second and left the country wicketless.

Even Misbah-ul-Haq admits, “We also have a little bit of disadvantage of not playing well in the previous few games.”

Of course Pakistan can’t win. Too many players over the hill.

Consider the age factor: six of those who took to the field in New Zealand have celebrated their 30th birthday while only one Australian, David Warner, has blown out those many candles. Younis Khan and Misbah probably barely remember passing that milestone, for it was so long ago. Australia is no country for old men, as they say, and Mitchell Starc will surely be testing the aging reflexes of the old codgers with a barrage of head-high missiles.

Misbah knows this, too. “Youth brings a lot to the team and give you energy. They might be more determined to perform well.”

First Test at the Gabba? One-nil advantage to Australia, guaranteed.

Consider the record: for 28 years, visiting teams have flung every weapon in their arsenal at the walls of fortress Gabba, only to fall back, defeated by Australia’s impregnable defences. Such is their aura in Brisbane that there were cries of disbelief when Cricket Australia moved the first Test of the summer to the WACA.

As if they had stuck pins in voodoo dolls dressed up as Australian players and doomed them to defeat before the series had begun. But for this series, all confidence has been restored and Australia have the added advantage of playing back-to-back Tests with the pink ball.

The enormity of the task isn’t lost on Misbah. “It is not only the Gabba conditions but also the pink ball, day-night Test match. The players are not that much familiar with the pink ball and these conditions. That could be a challenge, especially under lights. It is always a challenge when you come to play in Australia, our sort of cricket, because these conditions are totally different from the rest of the world. There’s a bit more bounce and pace here.”

As if this Pakistan side could possibly achieve what has eluded all teams from the sub-continent.

Consider the history – no Asian team has ever won a series in Australia. Ever. Pakistan has won a miserly total of four Tests here. Two of those victories were in dead rubbers and none have come since 1995. They blew their chance of winning a series on Australian soil in 1999-00. They didn’t succeed in the late 70s. They couldn’t win with Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, with Imran Khan or Javed Miandad. Surely, only in bizarro world could this team break that hoodoo.

Misbah can hardly be ignorant that history is against him.

And yet…

Is there any team that can turn logic on its head better than Pakistan? Time and again, they have proved to be predictably unpredictable. They can collapse when the game is in the bag and conjure victory when defeat seems more than a foregone conclusion. Their fans are used to wondering which Pakistan has turned up on any given day. In many ways, Misbah’s Pakistan has evolved, gaining more consistency and, subsequently, improved results. But they retain the ability to surprise, to shock and, occasionally to infuriate. It is what has often made them one of cricket’s more entertaining sides.

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Pakistan are well-equipped to prove the tour of New Zealand was an aberration © AFP

But, that New Zealand drubbing?

It is, perhaps, dangerous to take too much from the series loss in New Zealand. It would have been years since any of the older Pakistan players had encountered the kind of surfaces prepared for those two Tests; for the younger players it may have been akin to batting and bowling on Mars. Their sole warm-up match was rained off and the squad was shaken emotionally and physically by the shaky isles, thanks to the huge earthquakes that interrupted their tour.

The bowling attack that struggled to take twenty wickets shouldn’t be solely judged on results in New Zealand. It is an attack that covers many bases and allows coach Mickey Arthur to tweak and shuffle, based on conditions and oppositions.

The right-armed Khans – Sohail and Imran – the former pitching it up and swinging it, the latter hitting the deck hard and extracting movement off the deck; the tricky lefties – Mohammed Amir, the wunderkind-become-comeback-kid, whose figures would be so much better but for dropped catches; Wahab Riaz, the bowler of fearsome spells to rattle the calmest batsmen; and Rahat Ali, who employs both more subtlety and more swing. And, of course, there is Yasir, who can both stifle and dismantle whole sides. It is, on paper at least, a formidable attack.

And, of course to deepen the blow in New Zealand, Misbah was absent for the second Test.

He’s not absent now: “If we just look back, leave these three games out and look back at the last six years we’ve been playing really well. A set of good players performing well, developed well as a team, and I think that if we can get back to those disciplines and lift our performances we have a chance. ”

What about the age factor?

Before the series in England, Pakistan were famously put through their paces by their army. Misbah and Younis scored the highest in those fitness tests and made the runs – and the push-ups – to prove it. In New Zealand, the team was tested again. They all improved their results. As for the two old guys? They finished in the top four.

And Misbah is banking on the nous that comes with miles on the odometer. “In Test cricket I believe experience can play a big role because you’ve been in those situations so many times and you know how to control the game and how to go there and deliver.”

“I believe that it’s important for any player, no matter in which part of your age you are, it’s important that you should just go there, express yourself, give your 100 per cent.

“And the important thing is a love for the game, passion. If you have passion you want to perform, you want to take challenges and that is the only way you can go there and perform.

“So at the moment, especially me and Younis we are enjoying those challenges and working hard, training hard and that is how we are still going.”

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Mohammad Amir would be desperately hoping his fielders hang on to catches © AFP

But, but… the Gabbatoir?

For an endlessly wandering squad that never has true home advantage, how much fear can a venue instill? While several teams have planted their flags on the summit of Test cricket rankings this year, only Pakistan have reached the top – albeit briefly – without playing at home. And while they have made the best of their base in the UAE, Misbah has revealed in the past the considerable toll that their nomad existence has taken.

And, perhaps, offsetting Australia’s daunting record is the relative inexperience of this fledgling side. Misbah and Younis have 43 centuries between them – five more than all the Australian players combined. Pakistan is a settled side; Australia is in transition forced upon them by turmoil.

That hasn’t escaped Misbah. “They’ve got some new faces in the team, obviously talented but that can be exploited at this level in Test cricket. We know that we have to play well and up to our potential to be competitive against Australia side, no matter how many new players they have in their line-up.”

And the weight of history?

It could be argued that the most pertinent period for Pakistan wasn’t in the late 1970s or around the turn of the century. From the murky nadir that was 2010, Misbah has led his side out of scandal and corruption, restored a reputation that seemed ruined forever and overcome countless obstacles to achieve what no other Pakistan side has ever done in becoming the number one Test side in the world. What’s one more little record to shatter?

Misbah isn’t one to have his future dictated by the past. “If we look back we took almost six years to develop this team and that team showed a lot to the world when we played in England and in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in our home conditions. So we had a lot of faith and confidence behind that.

“These players are experienced enough and they have the belief that they can do it and we’ve had some unbelievable successes in the past. I think those victories and those performances always give you confidence that you can do those sort of performances, even here in Australia. No doubt the conditions are tough but once you have confidence and belief I think you can change the history.”

No, it’s impossible that Pakistan could win a match, let alone the series.

But in 2016, when the ludicrous has seemingly become logical, they have their best chance in years.

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