Aamer Jamal should have bowled earlier – Mohammad Hafeez says it was a Shan Masood decision

Shan Masood’s communication skills have garnered plenty of praise throughout his career, but this afternoon in Sydney, it seemed no one could quite understand him.
After Australia were set 130 to win the final Test, Pakistan didn’t turn to the series’ joint-leading wicket-taker Aamer Jamal all morning. It was only after lunch that, with Australia needing 33 to win with nine wickets in hand and all jeopardy squeezed out of the game that Masood tossed him the ball in the 20th over.
It was a decision team director Mohammad Hafeez appeared to slightly distance himself from, saying he believed Jamal should have bowled earlier. However, he also stressed Pakistan understood the importance of bowling offspin on a wicket that was beginning to take plenty of turn, and backed Masood to take on-field calls. Offspinner Sajid Khan opened the bowling and took a wicket in his first over, as well as another one shortly before Australia wrapped up an eight-wicket win.

“It’s up to the captain,” Hafeez said after the game, talking about the bowling plans. “All bowlers were available but it’s the captain’s tactic. We wanted to bowl more from the offspinner because this track can offer a lot from the far end but the rest is up to [Masood]. Tactically, I think Jamal should have bowled earlier, but inside the field, the captain is the best judge so you have to back that up.”

In truth, the decision to overlook Jamal will go down as a curious detail in a match where Pakistan’s advantage had been squandered in other areas and phases of the game, most notably a madcap final hour on the third day when they lost five wickets for nine runs to slump from 58 for 2 to 67 for 7. Pakistan frequently found themselves on the wrong end of those sorts of frenetic passages with huge swings of momentum, especially in the last two Tests.
In Melbourne, Pakistan found themselves at 124 for one in response to Australia’s first innings score of 318, but lost the next five wickets for 46 runs. In the second innings, the visitors reduced Australia to 16 for 4 in the second innings, before dropping a vital Mitchell Marsh catch early only for him to take the target out of sight. The following day, Pakistan were 98 runs away from chasing down the total with half the side intact but lost 5 wickets for 18 runs to slip to a painful defeat.
In this Test, Pakistan had the momentum after skittling Australia’s final five for just 10 runs that gave them a slender first-innings lead, only for a Josh Hazlewood-inspired bowling attack to wrest back those losses.

“We learned hard lessons,” Hafeez said. “As a team, we had our moments but we couldn’t grab those. We perhaps didn’t [deserve] 3-0, as a team I think we did some really good things this series, but we couldn’t win the crucial moments of the game and that’s the reason for the 3-0. We lost the series, but watching the talent of the players is what made me say we could compete right from the start. We’ve seen some glimpses of it. There were certain moments in these games that we should have grabbed because they can make a difference, especially in Melbourne when they were 16 for 4. It could have been a situation where we needed to chase just 140-150 but it ended up above 300.

“Even here, we dropped some catches. Mitchell Marsh was dropped by Saim Ayub. We didn’t drop catches, we dropped the winning moments of the game. That is the negative side of our team: our fielding. We need to really work hard on this. The coaches worked really hard on it but when the players went inside they couldn’t respond accordingly. This is the one area I believe we need to work on.”

It was hard to miss the cosy congeniality that formed a recurring theme in this series. Both sides’ players have spoken about the relationships that were built when Australia went to Pakistan in early 2022 to play series in all three formats, and over the last month, those relationships have sustained. Pakistan’s players presented gift baskets and sweets for the Australian players’ children on Christmas Day, with players and families interacting with easy familiarity. Pakistan formed a guard of honour for David Warner in Sydney in both innings, applauded him off the field and presented him with Babar Azam’s playing top signed by the whole team.

“Playing the cricket with the right spirit of the game [was a positive],” Hafeez said. “Our captain led the side very well. He made correct calls at important times. It’s not just about your cricket, it’s about how you behave as an ambassador. I think he did most of the things correctly.”

But the cold, hard facts remain unchanged. Pakistan may have competed more ably than in any of the six series they have now been successively whitewashed in against Australia away, but that streak – now stretched to 17 – remains stubbornly unbreakable. And though Australia were pushed closer than most people – even in Pakistan – might have expected given the visitors’ depleted bowling attack, the appetite for drawing consolation in Australia from what-ifs and so-nearly’s has begun to wear thin.

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