Australia toured Pakistan in 2021/22 for their first Test match tour in over 24 years. They returned with a hard-fought 1-0 series win. Taha Hashim’s report originally appeared in the 2023 edition of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.

New Zealand and England had controversially pulled out of trips to Pakistan just months earlier, so Australia’s first visit since 1998/99 was wholeheartedly welcomed. “This tour is not just about cricket,” declared PCB chief executive Faisal Hasnain on the morning of the first Test. “It’s about mutual respect, understanding and admiration.”

His words set the tone for the next month. At Rawalpindi, Karachi and Lahore, crowds came in not just to hail their own, but to celebrate the return of the Australians, on their first Test tour anywhere since the 2019 Ashes. Camaraderie permeated the trip and, when Shaheen Shah Afridi and David Warner playfully squared up at Lahore, there was never an inkling of malice – just smiles from two men enjoying the contest.

The friendliness did not dilute the quality, even if placid surfaces nearly did. The flattest of all was in the First Test at Rawalpindi, where 14 wickets fell in five days, and Pakistan totalled 728-4 across their two innings. “In my view, this does not represent an even contest between bat and ball,” wrote match referee Ranjan Madugalle, who rated the pitch “below average”.

Still, both teams had pacemen capable of defying the soil beneath their feet. For Pakistan, there were touches of the sublime in the displays of Afridi, 21 years old, and Naseem Shah, 19. Australia, though, could call on a more experienced and complete package: Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins (aged 32 and 28) paid respect to local tradition by excelling with the old ball.

Cummins, who finished as the joint-leading wicket-taker in the Test series, with 12 at 22, was immense on his first tour as captain. His side adapted superbly from the breakneck nature of their 4–0 Ashes win to a more sedate style of play; wickets would have to be earned with patience. It was fitting that such a hard-fought series was decided in the last session of the final game. It was right, too, that Australia were the victors – and they became the first winners of the new Benaud–Qadir Trophy, named in honour of a great legspinner from each country.

While Cummins starred with the ball, Usman Khawaja put together a stunning run with the bat. He was born in Islamabad and moved to Australia as a boy, so this was a homecoming, and one he embraced. Looking at ease from first innings to last, he scored 97, 160, 44 not out, 91 and 104 not out. A total of 496 runs at 165 made it the most bountiful series of his career, but he could see the wider picture. “This series was bigger than us,” he wrote on social media. “We wanted to show the world we care, and to help continue to grow this game that we love.”

Pakistan’s defeat at Lahore was their first on home soil since they lost to South Africa in October 2007, though this was only the 11th Test there in the meantime. But they could take solace from a first one-day international series win over Australia for almost 20 years.

Babar Azam and Imam-ul-Haq each hit two hundreds and a half-century in the three-game series, with Babar lifting his average to an astonishing 59 after 86 one-day internationals. The artistry and versatility of his batsmanship in all formats were something to behold. In the Karachi Test, he batted for more than ten hours to save the match, while in the second ODI he sped Pakistan, chasing 349, towards victory by reaching a hundred from 73 balls. He even found time for a half-century in the Twenty20 game, though he could not prevent an Australian win.

First Test at Rawalpindi, March 4-8, 2022: Drawn

Pakistan 4pts, Australia 4pts. Toss: Pakistan.

This was a historic occasion, if not a particularly entertaining one. Australia’s first Test in Pakistan this century was cause for celebration – a reminder that a proud cricketing nation was open for business. But a sleepy Rawalpindi surface never woke up: five days brought 1,187 runs and 14 wickets, an average per dismissal of almost 85. For the batters, it was an opportunity to pump up the numbers; for the bowlers, cause to question career choices.

There was sadness too, with the opening day remembered for the death of two Australian greats. Before play, the teams shared a moment of silence in memory of Rod Marsh, who had died in Adelaide aged 74, a week after a heart attack. Then, once play had ended, came news that reverberated across the cricketing world and beyond: Shane Warne had died at the age of 52. In between those two losses, reports emerged of a suicide bomb attack in a mosque in Peshawar, about 90 miles to the west, with dozens of fatalities. Another moment’s silence followed, this time for Warne and the victims of a tragedy.

Out in the middle, the game soldiered on. It hadn’t take long to realise the pitch was benign: after just seven overs of pace, Cummins turned to his main off-spinner, Lyon; Head, a part-timer, was soon called on too. Neither caused much disturbance, as Imam-ul-Haq enjoyed his first day of Test cricket since Pakistan toured Australia in 2019-20; he began watchfully, before using his feet to strike the slow bowlers down the ground. A delightful punch through the covers off Starc sealed Imam’s eighth international century, but his first in Tests.

Beside him in a second-wicket stand of 208 was Azhar Ali, who took the lead on the second day after Imam fell lbw to Cummins for 157, the only wicket an Australian seamer would take all match. Azhar accelerated after reaching his 19th Test century: from 101 off 257 balls, his next 84 came at a strike-rate of 80. Yet Babar Azam’s declaration on 476-4 was poorly timed: as darkness descended, only one over, from off-spinner Sajid Khan, was permitted before play was called off.

As the Australian innings got moving on the third day, so came the most enthralling passage of the match. Young hotshots Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah bowled with pace and heart, but the 35-year-old openers, Khawaja and Warner, soaked up their exuberance, adding 133 in the morning session. While Warner was bowled after lunch by a delivery from Sajid that skidded on, Khawaja – dropped at gully on 22 – came within touching distance of a century in the country of his birth. He would have to wait: attempting a reverse sweep, he gloved to Imam at short leg. Pakistan overturned the not-out call.

Australia’s top four each made a half-century, but no one a hundred, with Labuschagne the second to fall in the nineties after overnight rain wiped out the fourth morning. For Pakistan, left-arm spinner Nauman Ali adopted a wide line outside leg, and induced false sweep shots from both Green and Smith. A couple of quick victims on the final morning helped him to a maiden six-for. Australia’s last six wickets fell for 52, handing Pakistan a lead of 17. But with less than a day left, the game’s third innings descended into a glorified net session. Cummins realised there was no point running his quicks into the ground, and he, Starc and Hazlewood sent down just 16 overs, as the spinners did the heavy lifting.

Imam and Abdullah Shafiq tucked in, sharing a three-figure stand for the second time in the match. Shafiq clipped a single to fine leg to bring up his first international hundred, while Imam, who would have been out for 94 if Cummins had reviewed an inside edge to short leg, became the tenth Pakistan batter to hit two centuries in a Test. An over of off-spin from Khawaja, the ninth bowler of the innings, was tantamount to saying enough was enough.

Player of the Match: Imam-ul-Haq.

Second Test at Karachi, March 12-16, 2022: Drawn

Pakistan 4pts, Australia 4pts. Toss: Australia. Test debut: MJ Swepson.

As Babar Azam ended the fourth day unbeaten on 102, Pakistan still had a mountain to climb. Set 506, they were 192-2, and would need to bat out of their skins to save the match and have a shout of winning the series. Babar, though, was the man for the task, and he delivered – in staggering fashion. He danced his way into the last hour of the fifth day, and turned a remarkable act of resistance into one of Test cricket’s fourth-innings epics.

When he eventually fell for 196, to a Lyon off-break, the immediate feeling was shock. Babar had faced 425 balls in more than ten hours, and his heroism had appeared boundless; it had seemed inevitable he would be there at the finish, to soak in the adulation and shake the hands of the exhausted Australians.

Instead, with more than 12 overs to go and five wickets required, Australia had an opening. It instantly got wider when Lyon removed Fahim Ashraf next ball, and wider still when he dismissed Sajid Khan. Australia needed three more, with eight overs left. But under the balmy glow of the Karachi sun, Pakistan remained defiant. In the 172nd over of the innings, Mohammad Rizwan kept out debutant leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson, and the Test ended as the most thrilling of draws.

The first three days had belonged to Australia. A first-innings total of 556-9 was headlined by the left-handed elegance of Khawaja, who put aside his near miss at Rawalpindi to reach a hundred. Batting with total command, he faced 369 deliveries as Australia punished the bowlers in boiling conditions. Carey added to their toil with a Test-best 93, before Cummins joined in the fun on the third morning, preceding his declaration with a meaty six over midwicket, his third of the innings.

Swepson, who had replaced Josh Hazlewood, was responsible for the first Pakistan wicket, launching a bullet throw from backward point to dismiss Abdullah Shafiq. And when Imam-ul-Haq hit Lyon to mid-on in the over after lunch, it seemed spin might be the main threat. Cummins, though, had other plans. He replaced Lyon with Starc, who found reverse swing and late movement to account for Azhar Ali and Fawad Alam in consecutive deliveries. Cummins was marvellous too, moving the ball both ways, and toying with Rizwan in a brief, one-sided duel. Green dismissed Ashraf and, for the first time in the series, the bowlers were on top.

In all, Pakistan collapsed from 45-1 to 118-9, then rallied in a stand of 30 – the largest of the innings – yet still trailed by a gargantuan 408. Cummins chose not to enforce the follow-on, and Australia added 97 before their second declaration, in the sixth over of the fourth morning. And it took just six more overs for them to break through: Imam, who was plumb lbw to Lyon, made matters worse by wasting a review. Azhar preferred resilience to runs, battling to six off 53 balls before he ducked into a short one from Green that hardly bounced, and also fell lbw. Unlike Imam, he did not opt for a review, but replays showed ball had flicked glove. Minds seemed scrambled.

It was up to Babar to bring clarity, and joining him was the resolute Shafiq – a centurion at Rawalpindi, yet playing in just his seventh first-class match. Dropped on 20 by Smith at slip, he and Babar battled 60 overs to reach the close only two down. While Shafiq was watchful, Babar was more expansive, and he reached his first Test hundred for two years – and first as captain – from his 180th ball. The great escape was on.

The pair began the fifth day serenely, and looked set to take their dominance into lunch. But just before the break, the relentless Cummins lured Shafiq, on 96, into a cover-drive, and the ball – the 305th he had faced – took the edge, not the middle. This time Smith held on. The 228-run partnership was Pakistan’s second-highest in the fourth innings of a Test; more importantly, it had lasted 86 overs.

Cummins also found Fawad’s edge after lunch, bringing Rizwan to the crease, and Swepson bounced back from a poor spell in the morning to bowl a probing line after drinks: twice in two balls he had Babar dropped. The final session began with Pakistan 310-4, and 36 overs left.

Twenty runs off the first two prompted fanciful musings about a record-breaking chase, but in reality a draw was always going to be Pakistan’s victory, particularly once Babar and Ashraf fell to successive deliveries. Rizwan refused to temper his aggression, despite another wicket, and almost paid the price when, with 19 balls remaining, he chipped the luckless Swepson to extra cover on 91. But Khawaja, still wearing a helmet after fielding close in, dropped a catchable chance. Rizwan moved to a hundred, and Pakistan could finally breathe.

Player of the Match: Babar Azam.

Third Test at Lahore, March 21-25, 2022: Australia won by 115 runs

Australia 12pts. Toss: Australia.

This match bore plenty of similarities to Karachi: the masterful Khawaja celebrated a Test hundred, Pakistan collapsed in the face of a pace exhibition, and Babar Azam resisted in the fourth innings. But there was a crucial difference: Australia took the final day, and with it the series.

In the first Test at the Gaddafi Stadium since the terrorist attack of 2009, Australia made no changes to a side who had laboured in sweltering heat for almost all the last two days at Karachi. Pakistan, though, were bold, dropping all-rounder Fahim Ashraf and bringing back the pace of Naseem Shah – lengthening their tail in the process.

Naseem justified his return, sprinting in on a slow, low surface for 31 overs across the first two days and outbowling his senior colleagues – even if Shaheen Shah Afridi, who removed Warner and Labuschagne in the third over, also finished with four wickets. Khawaja again top-scored, and a 135-run sixth-wicket stand between Green and Carey dominated the first session on day two. Even so, for the first time in the series, Australia were dismissed below 400.

The Pakistan reply began strongly – Abdullah Shafiq displaying his prodigious talent again – and at 214-2 on the third afternoon they looked comfortable. But a stunning return catch from Cummins, low to his right in his follow-through, ended Azhar’s innings on 78. It was a breathtaking moment, and sparked a meandering match into life. With the ball now reversing, Cummins and Starc went to work in the evening, and produced a spectacular collapse. From 248-3, Pakistan lost 7-20 in 10 overs, and the last four for none. The ball that ended the innings – a 90mph stump-rattler – summed up Starc’s ferocity. Cummins, who seemed unable to do anything wrong, finished with his seventh Test five-for, and second as captain. Australia led by 123.

Khawaja finished a magnificent series with a flourish. Bowled off a no-ball by Naseem on 31, he advanced to his 12th Test century (and fourth since his recall for the Ashes in January). He ended his fifth innings of the tour as Australia’s only centurion, and his tally of 496 runs was more than twice any of his colleagues. From Rawalpindi to Lahore, Khawaja was the man to rely on.

With less time available than at Karachi, Cummins had a tricky call to make over the declaration. He chose 227-3, with Smith ticking off 8,000 Test runs, and set Pakistan 351 in a little under four sessions: tricky, but not impossible. The score as the final day began was 73 for none, so the imagination didn’t have to go into overdrive: Pakistan could win. But Shafiq’s departure in the fourth over got the Australian ball rolling, and an hour or so later Azhar Ali departed in controversial circumstances: the onfield decision was not out, but the third umpire claimed after an eternity that he could detect a tiny spike on Ultra Edge, and Smith’s bat–pad catch was given. Babar got off the mark with a sumptuous boundary down the ground. But could he work another miracle?

Cummins was in no mood for one. From around the wicket, he ended a poor series for Fawad; from over the wicket, he unleashed an inswinging yorker to Rizwan, who was struck outside the line – but chose not to review. Babar advanced to his second half-century in the match, before Lyon, who had troubled him with sharp turn and steep bounce, struck. A prod resulted in an edge, and Smith, after a shaky time in the cordon, held a smart catch when it mattered.

Babar’s wicket was the beginning of a hasty end: the last five tumbled for 22 in nine overs, with Lyon chalking up his first Test five-for since January 2020. But it was Cummins who sealed it, bowling Naseem to finish with eight in the match. In the final session of the final day of the final Test, Australia could celebrate at last. It was their third series win in Pakistan, and their first in Asia since 2011/12.

Player of the Match: PJ Cummins.
Player of the Series: UT Khawaja.