A few positives from the lost series
And so, all good things come to an end. Pakistan’s 1-0 series loss against Sri Lanka was the first time Pakistan had lost since the infamous summer of 2010. Almost two years of unbeaten – often prosaic – brilliance could not go on forever. The magnitude of this achievement can be defined as such: the last time Pakistan went as many Test series without losing (seven in this case), Imran was the captain of the side. In fact, the final series of that unbeaten run was the Indian tour of Pakistan in 1989 – a tour in which Waqar Younis and Sachin Tendulkar made their debuts. Simply put, this is the consistently best Pakistani side most of us have seen in our lifetimes. Yet, it won’t be surprising to see calls for the captain to resign – such is the logic that defines the Pakistan fan and administrator.
Despite the loss there was much to cheer for Pakistan. Foremost amongst them was the emergence of Junaid Khan as the potential leader of the pace attack. He had hinted at doing exactly that during an injury-ravaged second half of 2011, but a series in which he took 14 wickets at under 22 could be the signal of him accepting the responsibility that so many before him have failed to grasp at. Much has been made of how good, statistically, his start has been in Test cricket (after eight Tests he has 27 wickets; by comparison Aamer had 21 wickets at the same stage, while Wasim Akram had 28). But his excellence goes beyond just numbers. His bowling on the fourth day of the second Test – on a track as dead as the parrot John Cleese once held – was reminiscent of Shoaib Akhtar of yore, bowling full pelt on a wicket that offered him nothing. For a Pakistani pace attack, bereft of life – how else to explain the continuing existence of Mohammad Sami – one series loss must surely be worth the potential Junaid showed.
The positivity was not restricted to the bowling, though. This series offered proof of the continued significance of Azhar Ali – who is slowly becoming the man around whom this batting order is to be built. Azhar’s virtues – patience, hard-work, decision making and sheer bloody mindedness – are not what the average Pakistani fan romanticises about. But his record and his performances are silencing his doubters one at a time. Since his debut, in July 2010, only Kumar Sangakkara has faced more balls than him in Test cricket. But he is no Mudassar Nazar – a man who seemed to believe that his role as a batsman was to drive the bowlers and the spectators mad, rather than score runs. After 24 Tests, he has scored more runs than any of the trio that formed Pakistan’s greatest ever middle order (Inzamam, Yousuf and Younis) had scored at the same stage in their careers. Azhar’s posters may not adorn many bedroom walls, but his value as the lynchpin for Team Misbah cannot be underestimated.
Still though, Azhar has needed support. The drops in the form of the team’s senior citizens this year has been stark – Misbah’s average from 2011 to 2012 has fallen from 70 to 42, Younis’ corresponding figures are 85 and 36. At the end of last year, it would have been difficult to place your bets on Asad Shafiq to provide that support. He had averaged under 40 over the calendar year, and going into the England series had only two 50+ innings in 15 innings; all this despite the inflation provided by a tour of Bangladesh. The faith that had been given to him – something that has often been denied to many of his contemporaries and predecessors – seemed misplaced. But Asad Shafiq walked into last chance saloon and emerged victorious. He continued the theme of aborted starts in the England series, but his 40s and 50s had far more bearing on the games, in a low scoring series, than they had had previously. He has followed that with the Sri Lankan series where he has averaged over 60, and had three 50+ scores in five innings. It is going to be interesting to see whether this is the beginning of a purple patch or another file to be placed into the cabinet titled ‘Pakistani false dawns.’ Considering the application that has been used in many of the innings, the latter might be a safer bet.
But this is Pakistan, lest we forget. To wager on the future of the national team is as good an investment as a wishing well. Three years ago, Pakistan went to Sri Lanka with a similarly rejuvenated team – a team, and a captain, that had just captured the World T20 title. Pakistan lost the series by a score-line which was harsh to them. The captain would not play another Test match for 15 months. The best batsman in the series would play only one match after it. There were a multitude of reasons for why Younis Khan and Fawad Alam were ostracised in the aftermath of that tour – but few which could’ve been predicted when that tour finished.
So, as always, it would be idiotic to predict – or expect – anything with regard to the Pakistan team. Much more logical to stay on the bandwagon and see where it goes.
The writer is a sports nerd, and does not believe that opinions other than his own are valid. He can be found presenting his opinions as fact on his blog.
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