The nature of Pakistani cricket fans is such that winning cricket matches isn’t enough for us; we want our players to be unpredictable, flashy and eccentric. That is why a hit-and-miss batsman like Shahid Afridi, equally capable of reaching dizzying heights of brilliance and moments of sheer stupidity, is a folk hero while the solidly dependable Misbahul Haq has never garnered much affection or respect. Now may be the time to change that view. Under Misbah’s captaincy, Pakistan has become what it never was previously: a team that is consistently victorious. If winning series in all three formats of the game against Sri Lanka was not enough to convince the sceptics then nothing will.
Both Pakistan and Sri Lanka are teams recovering from the loss of their best bowlers — Sri Lanka to retirement, Pakistan to prison. What our complete dominance showed is that we still have the best bowling reserves in the world. The surprise, though, was the batting line-up. Previous Pakistan cricket teams have had individual batsmen that rank among the best in the world but have also been prone to inexplicable collapses. The current batting squad is devoid of stars but heavy on reliability. As much as we love to moan about Misbah’s slow strike rate, his dependability is the glue that binds the batting. Given that both he and Younis Khan are in the twilight of their careers, it was also very encouraging to see the maturity shown by Azhar Ali and the late blossoming of Mohammed Hafeez’s talent.
Crediting our comprehensive victory against the Sri Lankans to the change at the top of the Pakistan Cricket Board may be premature but going forward it will be a welcome respite to have a chairman who doesn’t seem to go out of his way to antagonise star players. The return of Shahid Afridi, after his pointless feud with Ijaz Butt, also points to a new future, one where infighting and rivalries can be banished and forgotten. Given our history this dawn may be a false one and the cricket team could soon revert to type.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2011.