Reviews, Opinions, Analyses, Stats and Numbers

Pakistan's Chasing Ghost

Pakistan failed to chase down a get-able target yet another time in Tests. The margin this time came down to 4 runs - and as they say - the closest defeats are the bloodiest.

Winning and losing is part of the game. Unpredictability is what differentiates sports played by humans from a game performed by robots. It all reverses when a particular outcome - be it winning or losing - starts to become predictable with robotic accuracy. This has what it become in case of Pakistan’s handling of run chases.

For Pakistan in the recent times, chasing in 4th innings of a Test has become like being chased by ghosts. Whenever Pakistan is put to chase, it looks more like its Pakistan team that is being chased, by the ghosts, rather than Pakistan team chasing a target.

It can be argued that Pakistan was never a side good at innings 4 of a Test. Such arguments can only be settled by looking at the related facts across the eras of Pakistan Test Cricket history. So let’s have a look at it.

In all, Pakistan has batted 4th in a Test on 140 occasions where it managed to come out winners on 59 occasions, mustered a draw 32 times while failed to save the Test 49 times. In percentages, Pakistan has won 42% of the run chases, drawn 35% and lost only on 23% occasions.

If the targets and results are broken down into ranges, here’s the picture that it paints:
Pakistan's 4th innings run chases Summary

In terms of targets faced by Pakistan in those 140 run chases, 13 targets (9%) were set for 450 or more – that can be considered as unachievable. Out of those 13, Pakistan managed to draw only 3 matches – against Sri Lanka at Colombo in 2006 and against South Africa at Lahore in 2007 and at Dubai in 2010. Pakistan were set a target in the range of 400 – 450 12 times (8.5%) and lost all but 2 matches – against Sri Lanka at Colombo in 1997 and against Australia at Karachi in 1998.

That summarizes the history of Pakistan’s 4th innings run chases pretty well. It’s a good view to evaluate how good – or bad – Pakistan has been at run chases. However, it does not provide the distribution of those wins, in other words, trends or a pointer at the good and bad periods in this context. For that, lets have a look at the timeline of Pakistan’s 4th innings run chases, broken into 4 phases for the sake of clarity: 

In a period of 12 years - from July 1982 to September 1994 - till the famous run chase against Australia at Karachi, Pakistan lost on only 2 out of 27 occasions while batting 4th. 8 of those Tests ended in a draw while Pakistan won 17 out of 27 run chases in that period.

From September 1994 to March 1998, Pakistan failed in 7 out of 12 run chases, managed to draw a single Test. The highest run chase - among 4 in that period - was just 67

·        From October 2002 to October 2004, Pakistan won 7 out of 8 run chases and managed to draw the 8th. That remains Pakistan’s most productive streak of run chases.
·        That successful streak was followed by a period till March 2005 where Pakistan lost 4 out of 5 run chases.
·        The worst period came between February 2007 till July 2010 where Pakistan lost 7 out of 10 run chases and managed to draw the Test on the other 3 occasions. It also included a streak of losing 6 run chases on a trot in between July 2009 and July 2010 - that included failing to chase down targets of 168 at Galle and 176 at Sydney
The look at this timeline highlights that the trend in recent times is much more alarming. In terms of margins of defeats, 7 out of 8 closest defeats have also come during the last 9 years:

In the last 3 years, Pakistan batted 4th on 13 occasions and lost - even failed to muster a draw - on 9 of those occasions. Barring the successful run chase of 160 against the Test debutants Ireland, Pakistan has won only 3 out of those 13 run chases where 64 was the highest target chased down by Pakistan. Pertinent to say, Pakistan managed to taste the defeat, somehow, from apparently non-lose-able positions in 4 out of those 9 defeats – against New Zealand and Sri Lanka at Abu Dhabi, against England at Birmingham where Pakistan had to survive roughly 2 sessions and against New Zealand at Hamilton where Pakistan lost 9 wickets in the last session during an adventurous attempt to win that Test.

It’s not uncommon to cover random dark spots with positively worded flashy stickers like misfortune or a bad day or opponents playing better on the day. There’s no harm in expecting and accepting occasional failures either. But its tough to label such frequency of failure as part of the game or with similar words. It is the kind of predictability and unwanted consistency that warrants a thorough retrospection. It requires ruthless and unbiased root-cause analysis followed by a water-tight avoidance of recurrence plan.

In most cases, such consistent failures point at deficiencies in either batting or coaching departments. On the field, it mostly happens as a result of the set of batsmen either lacking the required skills or the experience of facing such situations. In either case, it is considered the job of the coaching staff to identify it as a deficiency and help the given set of batsmen to improve this facet of their game.

During this period, apart from the exit of Younis and Misbah, the group of batsmen has remained pretty much the same. Its mostly the same set of players who have experienced these recent, and by all means, most painful defeats. They have failed enough times, now, not to know the anatomy of their trademark collapse and to sense it before it becomes too late to avoid.

Batting in the 4th innings of a Test is just another trait of batting. Its just another trait like the ability to bat in seaming, swinging, bouncy or spinning conditions. That’s what the coaches are mostly hired for – to help the given set of players improve in traits where they are struggling or failing. For instance, non-Asian teams hire spin consultants to help their players improve their ability to play spin in Asian conditions. It is considered the primary job of coaching staff to help the players improve in their weaker traits. If the team fails to improve its results in that particular trait, it raises question marks over the competence and performance of coaching staff as well.

Interestingly, the recent slump in chasing form of Pakistan team began right after they registered their highest ever run chase – of 377 against Sri Lanka at Pellekele – in July 2015. Coincidentally, it also coincides with beginning of coaching tenure of Mickey Arthur as the head coach. In fact, Pakistan also had a full time batting coach throughout this period – even the same coach. Grant Flower has been with the team as the batting coach since August 2014. He was hired, initially, for a period of 2 years and by virtue of subsequent renewals he is set to continue with the team, at least, until the ODI World Cup in England, next summer.

In terms of capability, although it can be argued, but it is generally accepted that the batsmen that have represented Pakistan in the last few years were the best available options for Pakistan. On the other hand, the same coaching staff has been with the team long enough to help those best available batsmen improve their weaker traits. Still, the team has been bitten by its chasing ghost, even deeper on every next attempt.

Einstein once opined, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Pakistan’s chasing woes also seem to have fallen into same definition. Something has to give in. Think tank of Pakistan Cricket must think of different ways – changes – to get over its chasing ghosts. Its improbable that this insanity could go on any longer.


TV, Radio and Web Shows

On Samaa News - 30 March 2022

On Dawn News 26 Feb 2022

On Samaa News 21 Feb 2022

On Dawn News 14 Feb 2022

Radio Caravan - 17 May 2019

On Radio Caravan - 4 May 2019

On Dawn News TV -- 24 April 2019

On Hum News Live - 28 March 2019

On Radio Caravan - 20 April 2019

On BBC Urdu

On BBC Urdu
Discussion about ICC Rankings Update