Australia captain Pat Cummins has identified missed chances rather than poor tactics as the biggest factor in his side’s latest bungled final-day Test bowling effort.
Pakistan’s 171-over salvage mission, the longest fourth innings to save a Test match since World War Two, marks the Aussies’ fifth failure in 19 Tests to knock over their opponents on the last day after entering it with clear expectations of victory.
Three of those opportunities were series-defining: Ben Stokes’ miracle innings at Headingley in 2019 ultimately cost Australia a rare away Ashes series triumph; and their inability to knock over India in successive Tests (at the SCG, then the Gabba) in 2020-21 came in a 1-2 series defeat.
As he did for last summer’s drawn Test against England in Sydney where Australia finished one wicket away from victory, Cummins rued a series of dropped catches after Wednesday’s stalemate in Karachi.
“We’ve had a few instances,” the 28-year-old said of Australia’s inability to win close Tests. “I think the positive thing is each time we’ve created more than 10 chances.
“Probably disappointing thing this game as well, if we took a couple of those catches it might have been a different scenario.
“We’ll keep reviewing it.”
Steve Smith’s fumble at slip on day four off Abdullah Shafique (who went on to make 96) would have left Pakistan 3-38 and brought Fawad Alam, on a king pair, to the crease against a newish ball that was beginning to reverse.
That was precisely the scenario and conditions Cummins labeled as the most difficult circumstances to bat in, and the ones that allowed his side to skittle the hosts for 148 in their first innings.
Usman Khawaja, wearing a helmet at short cover having been moved from in-close for the final ball of a Mitchell Swepson over, then put down a straightforward chance at short cover off Mohammad Rizwan (104no) when Pakistan were seven down with three overs to bat.
Two (more difficult) dropped chances in three balls by bat-pad fielders Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne off final-day hero Babar Azam (196 off 425 balls in a marathon match-saving knock) proved as costly.
Questions over Cummins’ decisions to bat on into the third day in Australia’s first innings and then to not enforce the follow-on have also come under the microscope, but the skipper had no regrets.
“In terms of tactics, I think overall I wouldn’t change too much to be honest,” he said.
“I thought batting into day three gave us that chance to really have a crack at them on day three … it probably went better than we would have expected.
“But over here, the wickets are pretty good.
“We try and bat two-and-a-half days on the best time to bat on the wicket, hoping it’s going to break up on days four and five, and it held together pretty well, they batted well so I think overall, happy. “
Cummins remains upbeat at Australia’s chances of clinching a first Test series win abroad in six years, with draws in the first two matches setting up the series finale in Lahore as the decider.
“We’re showing that we’re able to adapt and play well over here, but of course getting so close, so far ahead in the game and not coming out with a result can feel like it’s a missed opportunity,” he said.
“The good thing is it’s nil-all, we didn’t lose anything, there’s another game next week.
“Coming over here in these conditions at the start of the series, if you said it was going to be nil-all after two games you’d probably take that.”
Cummins (who bowled 39 overs in Karachi) said there were no major workload concerns for him and fellow quicks Mitchell Starc (34 overs) or Cameron Green (23).
But he did suggest spinners Nathan Lyon (64) and Swepson (62.4) would need to be “looked after” during the four-day turnaround before Monday’s third Test.
Qantas Tour of Pakistan 2022
Pakistan squad: Babar Azam (c), Mohammad Rizwan (vc), Abdullah Shafique, Azhar Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Fawad Alam, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Naseem Shah, Nauman Ali, Sajid Khan, Saud Shakeel, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Zahid Mahmood.
Australia Test squad: Pat Cummins (c), Ashton Agar, Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Steve Smith (vc), Mitchell Starc , Mark Steketee, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner. On standby: Sean Abbott, Brendan Doggett, Nic Maddinson, Matthew Renshaw
First Test: Match drawn
March 12-16: Match drawn
March 21-25: Third Test, Lahore
Australia ODI and T20 squad: Aaron Finch (c), Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey, Nathan Ellis, Cameron Green, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitchell Marsh, Ben McDermott, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Marcus Stoinis, Adam Zampa
March 29: First ODI, Rawalpindi
March 31: Second ODI, Rawalpindi
April 2: Third ODI, Rawalpindi
April 5: Only T20I, Rawalpindi
All matches to be broadcast in Australia on Fox Cricket and Kayo Sports