Australia’s pursuit of Pakistan’s last wickets to win this Test match unspooled like a low-speed car chase, all prolongation and precious little suspense.
The much-vaunted “wolfpack” of fast bowlers looked more like sheep in sheep’s clothing, unable to sustain much threat whenever the conditions resembled Test cricketing normality. Only with the extraordinary advantages of early evenings – new ball, poor light, impending rain – when the Pakistan top order fell on successive nights, had the Australian bowling looked dangerous.
If the object of day-night Test matches is to bring more viewers to cricket, this match offered wider exposure to the international game’s underlying weakness, which is the ever-widening gap between strong and weak nations. While it is true that Pakistan have never won a series in Australia, even with star-studded teams, rarely have they been in such dire positions, so early in matches, as they were in Adelaide and Brisbane. As contests, both Tests were effectively over by the middle of day two, and all Pakistan had to offer from there was some rearguard action of variable doughtiness.
Twenty20 cricket was always going to threaten the five-day game, but it was expected to cause erosion among the young. Instead, its most damaging impact has been among the old. Pakistan’s clear inferiority in this series was in their fast bowling. How dispiriting it is to have seen Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz, their two premier pacemen, retreating to the senior citizens’ home of Twenty20 speciality. In this, Pakistan is following the trend in the West Indies and Sri Lanka, where the reward for experience and achievement is to focus one’s commitment on the least demanding format. Rather than the pinnacle of the game, Test cricket in these countries is becoming a proving ground for young players, before they semi-retire into the short form, for their countries and, more attractively, for local franchises. For world cricket, with South Africa in strife, the pool of top-tier Test nations is shrinking down to India, England, Australia and, fingers crossed, New Zealand. Never has the call for greater direct financial subsidy for weaker countries been more urgent.