Pakistan's final-day batting - a disaster foretold

Sami Aslam walks off after being dismissed
Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Abu Dhabi, 5th day October 02, 2017

The impulsive response would be to frame this collapse as merely the afterthought to the departures of the greatest hashtagged middle order duo that ever played for Pakistan. What else would Pakistan do in the first Test they played without Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan other than crash, limp and whimper their way to 114 chasing 136?

You don't replace these guys overnight; you can't just buy that kind of experience; you can't score the runs they've scored without going through the careers they've gone through.

Greybeards will sit back and chill (and maybe Netflixing might not have been a bad option today). One hundred and fourteen chasing 136 sits comfortably in the dark, cold halls of Pakistan's chasing history, a brief sample of which is here. This is just how they roll. It is the penance to be paid for those other days (you know which ones).

The accurate response, however, would be to acknowledge that it is a condition that has become acute over the last year. History or no history, with or without MisYou, this is what Pakistan's batting has been doing since the Edgbaston Test last August.

Pakistan's day-5 performances in Tests since 2016
Runs Wkts Against Venue Result
 201  10  England  Birmingham  Lost
 229  10  New Zealand  Hamilton  Lost
 68  2  Australia  Brisbane  Lost
 163  10  Australia  Melbourne  Lost
 189  9  Australia  Sydney  Lost
 36  3  West Indies  Kingston  Won
 81  10  West Indies  Bridgetown  Lost

The 10 wickets lost on the final day today was the fifth time it had happened to them. On one occasion they lost nine in a day. They have done it around the world, to all kinds of bowlers and bowling, in all kinds of conditions, in all kinds of circumstances.

At Edgbaston, they were done in by reverse swing, when a draw was their only option. In Hamilton, their own indecisiveness in planning a chase and a combination of pace and spin did them in. At the MCG, when a draw again was their only option, their middle order gave way to Nathan Lyon, on a concrete strip of a surface with nothing for no bowler.

At Bridgetown, they could at least point to a deteriorating surface, but 81, when chasing 188? To a pace attack of - no disrespect intended - Shannon Gabriel, Alzarri Joseph and Jason Holder? In Sydney, with the series long gone and only a draw to play for, they lost nine wickets on the last day to spin and pace. And now, Abu Dhabi, where they had not ever lost a Test, on a surface that had deteriorated in no extraordinary way, against a side ranked lower than them and coming off one of their worst runs of form ever.

All of which is to say that it has happened enough times and in enough different ways for specific situations and conditions to not be relevant. Pakistan batting, final day - a disaster foretold. They are no nearer to locating a root cause let alone presenting a solution and it is an epidemic. These days can scramble the mind so much that in trying to answer why it was happening, Mickey Arthur first said:

"Not really [I can't put a finger on it], the only thing I can say and it's not a mitigating excuse at all, but that's a young batting line-up, obviously trying to find their way. Losing Azhar Ali was quite important and we discussed that at the break that we needed one good partnership and we wanted that up front but we didn't get that and that put us under pressure. We're always going to be under pressure as the game goes on because we couldn't expect the tail to get us over the line.

And then, pressed about whether it was a trend:

Look it is a trend and I can't sit here and say that our batting line-up is a young line-up because this is international cricket and you got to cut your teeth in international cricket. The expectation is that you go and win Test matches and that certainly was the expectation on our batsmen today. It's disappointing, call it pressure I'm not sure. That's something which we will sit down discuss and dissect going forward.

So which will it be? That a young line-up explains it or that it isn't and shouldn't? To be fair, Arthur is not the first Pakistan coach who has had trouble making sense of these collapses. If history is a guide, he won't be the last. And to be even fairer, there is no simple answer.

Pressure. Poor game sense. Bad decisions. Concentration lapses. Poor judgment. Failures of technique at key moments. Poor starts - Pakistan's middle order usually finds itself, but it can be no coincidence that five different opening partnerships played in the six examples mentioned. In these last-day situations, a poor start - whether in loss of wickets, or lack of intent - is fatal. This isn't it. There must be much more.

Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed, the core of this batting order now, have played through all of these final days. Given how long each of them has been around, why do they not appear any closer to working out what goes wrong for them on days such as this? Why were Misbah and Younis, with all their experience, unable to turn these days around and pass it on to these men? Babar Azam and Sami Aslam, the future, have now played in five and four of these final days respectively. How deep, Pakistan should worry, are those cuts going to go?

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