Although Misbah’s context of mentioning the inability of Pakistan’s 1999 squad to win a Test in Australia was more to highlight the complexity of winning in Australia, generally, it has been perceived as a lame attempt to use the performance of ’99 as an excuse to justify the underperformance of Pakistan in 2016/17. It has sparked a fierce debates with not only pre-millennial generation but some renowned former Cricketers, commentators, journalists and anchors lashing out at Misbah for his comment in the post-Sydney Test Press Conference.
It served as a pretty good reason to crunch some stats and extract some in the context of comparing Pakistan’s different sides that have visited since the last time Pakistan won a Test match in Australia in 1996. In all, there have been 4 tours since then and Pakistan has played 3 Tests in each of the tours and lost all of them. However, it was the 1999 side that had been picked to draw any parallels.
Why specifically the 1999 side? Because the argument is all about experience and that mention by Misbah also came in the middle of a statement where he was highlighting the need and importance of experience to win in Australia. So, let’s start off with basic comparison of Pakistan’s last 4 teams to tour Australia on the basis of experience.
For the sake of simplicity, the stats of playing eleven of the first Test in each tour are included in the analysis.
By all means, Pakistan’s team of 2016 carried more experience to Australia than any of the 4 previous touring parties. In fact, at the start of Sydney Test, it became the most experienced side of Pakistan ever to take field in a Test on Australian soil.
For decades, it has been the batting department of Asian teams that has been put under the scanner. It has been believed, generally, that it is more difficult for batsmen of a visiting Asian side to adapt in Australia as compared to bowlers, so the experience in batting plays vital role in overall performance of an Asian side in Australia. Trends from tours of India and Sri Lanka follow the same trend as well.
The top-7 batting lineup of Pakistan’s 2016 team was not only the most experienced one but it also leads the other units with a fair margin.
On the other hand, the bowling wing of 2016 team was generally perceived as the weakest or least experienced ever to tour Australia. This is actually not true. In terms of number of Tests played by the bowlers, 2016 team was not far behind, definitely not as inexperienced as the one that toured in 2009/10.
Before we move on, let’s have a quick similar view of Australian teams that faced visiting Pakistan team in the first Test of the tour during the same period.
Comparison between the four Pakistani or Australian sides is good to benchmark their strengths and weaknesses against themselves but there is another factor that always plays a vital role in any contest, that is, the comparison of opponents on the basis of experience. So, let’s go through the different measures of experience, one by one.
To start off, here is how those four sets of opponents stood against each other in terms of combined Tests (caps).
In 1999, Australian side that faced Pakistan in the first Test was 1.6 times more experienced than their opponents, Pakistan. Coincidentally, in 2016, Pakistan’s side was also 1.6 times more experienced than their hosts, Australia.
In terms of Combined Batting Average of the team, Australian side was ahead of competing Pakistan side by almost 3 runs per wicket. However, in 2016, it was Pakistan side that was 1.5 runs ahead of the Australian team.
If we analyze the experience of batting and bowling separately then here is what we get.
In 1999, the Australian batting lineup entered the match with almost double the experience of their opponents. In 2016, the situation was completely reversed, where Pakistan batting lineup entered the match with more than twice the number of Test caps gathered by their opponents.
The same theme is evident in Combined Test Runs as well. In 1999, Australia’s Top-7 had scored more than double the total scored by Top-7 batsmen of Pakistan. In 2016, the picture is completely reversed where Pakistan’s Top-7 took the field with more than double the amount of runs scored by their counterparts in Tests.
The same theme reflects in terms of combined number of 50+ scores as well. In 1999, Australia’s tally was twice as much of Pakistan and in 2016, Pakistan entered with double the tally of Australian batting line up.
That leaves us with the comparison of bowling units. Let’s have a look at it.
By numbers, in 2016, Pakistan and Australia had pretty much similar experience in their bowling units. However, the huge gap in experience of Pakistan and Australian units of 1999 may come as a surprise. The general perception is that the bowling unit of Pakistan that toured in 1999 was not just best in the last 20 years but probably the best ever in Pakistan’s Cricket history. This perception is accurate to extent that each and every bowler in that squad has gone into history of Pakistan Cricket as, at least, above average, if not as great of the game.
But what is often missed is the fact that back in 1999, most of those future stars were still in their early years of career and had not established themselves as the greats of the game. For instance, at the start of Brisbane Test in ’99 tour, Abdul Razzaq, Shoaib Akhtar and Azhar Mahmood had 25 Tests in all between them. Abdul Razzaq made his Test debut in that Test.
It was probably the same as Warne and McGrath were also part of that Australian side under Mark Taylor that toured Pakistan in 1993/94 but could not save Australia from defeat. When Australia returned in 1998, it was Pakistan who faced the defeat.
In terms of Combined Test wickets, Australian units have been ahead of Pakistan in both 1999 and 2016. However, there is one thing worth noting that even with almost half the number of Test caps as compared to their Australian counterparts, Pakistani bowlers had almost the same number of Test wickets that highlights the quality of that bowling unit.
Similarly, there is not much there in terms of combined bowling average. Pakistan’s comparatively lesser experienced bowling unit of ’99 had a better bowling average than Australians whereas the bowling average of Pakistan’s 2016 bowling unit was the worst in 20 years.
Finally, if we go with the generally acknowledged principle of bowlers winning the Test match and the ability of bowlers to take wickets and run through opponents as vital ingredient in the success of any Test team, the teams of ’99 looks evenly matched while Pakistan’s bowling unit of 2016 comes out to be considerably weaker than their counterparts. If another fact is added to the mix, that is, half of these 5 wicket hauls by Pakistan team of 2016 was taken by one man named Yasir Shah who had a terrible series, the result of the series does not look surprising at all.
In summary, Pakistan’s team of 2016 did not lack experience overall. In fact, the weight of experience was ideally tilted towards the batting side that is generally considered the tougher trait for visiting Asian sides. In terms of experience, the batting side of 2016 was more superior to Australians than as much the Australians were in 1999.
In terms, of bowling unit, there was no lacking of experience there. The bowling units of Pakistan and Australia in 2016 were similarly experienced but it’s the quality of bowling where Pakistan lacked big time. In comparison, Pakistan’s bowling unit of 1999 was much less experienced than the Australians but it had the quality to compete with the Australians.
If there has to be one person held responsible for spotting, picking and grooming the quality bowlers, good enough to take 20 wickets in a Test match, then it can be none other than the captain of the side. It is the bowling innings not a batting innings where captaincy skills of any captain are tested anyways. The part of reason for quality of 1999 bowling unit was Wasim Akram as he was the captain himself and he picked the right talent and gave them the right opportunities to express their quality. Who could be responsible for lack of quality in 2016 bowling unit? Anyone other than the Captain Misbah himself?
Hence, Misbah’s argument of using loss of ’99 squad as an excuse to justify the below par performance of the unit led by himself stands weak and shallow. It simply lacks the statistical support to be seen in the same way as Misbah attempted to portray. It might have been a desperate attempt from him to come out of the hole but his desperate attempt has sunk him deeper into that very trouble hole.