Speaking to reporters at the WACA ground following Pakistan’s morning training session, Hafeez said Pakistan were excited by the challenge, but appeared particularly irked by the tour arrangements for game against the PM XI in Canberra, at one point implying it might have been tactical.
“That was the slowest pitch a visiting team could ever play on in Australia,” he said. “As a team we are really happy with our preparations because we ticked most of the boxes.
“Everyone knew [the pitch wasn’t what we wanted], so there was no point of saying it again and again and raising the issue with Cricket Australia. The disappointment was really high because we weren’t expecting these kinds of arrangements. Maybe it’s tactical but we’re ready for it. We’re not using it as an excuse, we’re absolutely ready for the challenges coming up.”
The PM XI game has traditionally been a limited-overs game in the Australian capital city, but has been played as a four-day contest over the past two years. Only three days of play were possible, with a freak storm bringing an early conclusion to the game. Pakistan batted 116.2 overs and scored 391 for 9 before declaring. But on a noticeably slow surface, they toiled for 141 overs, managing just four wickets.
While Hafeez – and Pakistan – were clearly upset by the variance between the conditions they wanted and the ones they got, the weather may have had a bigger say in it than any tactical considerations. There was significant rain in the lead-up to the game, to the extent the ground was underwater at one stage, so preparing a pitch to any particular specifications was always going to be a challenge. In addition, the Manuka Oval has historically tended to offer flat decks, with limited pace on offer. Recently, the outfield was relaid, and was also quite slow.
“For me, seeing Shan become captain is no surprise” Hafeez said. “He was always ready for this role, and when you get this sort of opportunity, it shines. He’s a superb player, and as a leader, he’s got a great rapport with the players and a great relationship with the whole team. His experience as a captain and what he’s learned over the years – especially the couple of years he’s played county cricket – have all seen his management skills have come to the fore even more. What’s important is this is a confident unit that’s here and Shan is playing his role very well.
Hafeez also insisted he wasn’t pointing out his disappointment with the Canberra surface as an excuse, saying he was confident this team had the ability to walk away with a series win. Pakistan have traditionally found playing in Australia harder than anywhere else, having lost their last 14 Tests on the bounce in the country, spanning five whitewashes.
“This Test team is very settled. They’ve all done a great job for Pakistan cricket. Everyone is excited to take the challenge. Performing in Australia would be great for them. We are here to beat Australia, not just to compete.
“As a team, we believe we have great talent within the team who can win in Australia. The guys are really hungry to perform in Australia. They wanted to take that excitement and challenge in the right spirit. The message the team conveyed is they want to beat Australia this time.”