Pakistan's Test side shows promise
As this year ends, we find Pakistan slowly but surely roaring its way back into the cricketing world.
Last year when that dreadful News of the World (NoTW) sting named some players in a fixing scandal, many feared the death of Pakistani cricket. With international teams already refraining from touring Pakistan, allegations of corruptions almost completely isolated Pakistani cricket.
As this year ends, we find Pakistan slowly, but surely, roaring its way back into the cricketing world. All credit must be given to the players who have somewhat managed to recreate the market value that was once associated with this brand of cricket.
Pakistan’s form in ODIs this year has been nothing short of spectacular. With 24 wins and 7 losses in 32 matches, the team has enjoyed a healthy winning percentage of 77.41.
But for a cricket purist, nothing can beat Test cricket. And it is Pakistan’s success in this form of the game that provides a great sense of satisfaction to me. As a cricket follower since the start, it was hard to fathom a time when Pakistan’s Test squad was going to give a more settled look than the Australian Test squad; say what you may, it is now true.
Misbah and his men, with their ‘tuk-tuk’ version of cricket, have salvaged a lot of pride for Pakistan. As the year ends, the team has climbed up to number five on the ICC Test rankings.
With 765 runs in eight Test matches, Younus Khan has now taken up the number five spot on the ICC Test batting rankings. The number one ODI bowler Saeed Ajmal is ranked ninth on the list of bowlers’ rankings. Ajmal also remained the highest wicket taker this year with exactly 50 scalps in eight Test matches, and the record is likely to stay with him unless Ishant Sharma plays the Boxing Day Test and manages to pick up nine or more wickets.
The once unsolvable opening conundrum too, looks to be a thing of the past now. For 12 consecutive matches, Pakistan’s opening pair has not changed. This year, Pakistan’s southpaw Taufiq averaged a healthy 46.16 in 10 Test matches. His partner, the wily all-rounder Hafeez, averaged 40.43 in an equal number of matches.
Azhar Ali has also proved to be a great asset for Pakistan. At the all important number three position, he has fought hard and taken the necessary blows to cement the position for himself. The consequent transition of Younus Khan to number four has seen him shine as a true star in the batting line up.
While Junaid Khan and Aizaz Cheema have bowled with heart and impressed all those watching, it is important not to forget the workhorse of Pakistan’s bowling attack; Umar Gul has reinvented himself as a Test bowler, picking up 34 wickets in eight test matches. When the bad boys of our cricket (it should be fairly obvious but I will name Akhtar, Asif and Amir) took the spotlight throughout the last three to four years, this guy kept coming in, bowling day in and day out, doing his job, at times even more, for the team.
As the year ends, fans all over the world will be bracing themselves for a contest that promises exciting cricket. When Pakistan takes on England early next year, there will be lots to prove for both teams. For Pakistan, it will be a chance to continue with their good form in the longer version of the game and a win against the number one Test side in the world will put a stamp of credibility on Pakistan’s recent success. For England, a win in this part of the world will be a must to prove their true worth as a Test side.
It will be an act of sheer folly if someone believes that Pakistan will not have to raise the bar as they take on the English side.
Pakistan’s approach in Test matches has been, at times, way too slow. There are moments when a team needs to push the scoring rate in Test matches as well and Pakistan has been found lacking on this front. Take the recent Abu Dhabi Test against the Sri Lankans and the Dhaka Test against Bangladesh as two examples. There were instances, in both these matches, where Pakistan could have driven home the advantage by scoring freely when batting. Against Sri Lanka, the slow batting along with other factors (read fielding) cost us a win. Against Bangladesh, it led to Pakistan facing some anxious moments in the dark before sealing the win.
This is where I press the case for someone like Umar Akmal to be in the squad at least. He has the flare and the shots. What he needs is a little bit more pampering, just like the spoilt child in any family. If Mohsin Hassan Khan wants to change Akmal’s game, he will only end up confusing this highly talented youngster. And who would you want in the Test squad as the reserve middle order batsman? A completely out of sorts Shoaib Malik, or an in-form Umar Akmal?
For as long as I follow cricket, I will continue to question Imran Farhat’s selection. If the selection for the England series takes place on merit, someone like Afaq Raheem should make it as the reserve opener for the Test matches.
Fielding will be, and you can never stress enough on this fact, an absolute key for Pakistan in this series. If we drop catches like the Abu Dhabi Test against Sri Lanka, beating England will be very difficult.
If Junaid Khan comes back completely fit, Pakistan’s bowling line-up will not be much of an issue as the bowlers literally select themselves on merit.
In my humble opinion, this squad should board the flight to the UAE as part of Pakistan’s Test squad:
Mohammad Hafeez, Taufeeq Umar, Afaq Raheem, Azhar Ali, Younus Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Asad Shafiq, Umar Akmal, Adnan Akmal, Umar Gul, Junaid Khan, Aizaz Cheema, Mohammad Khalil/Sadaf Hussain, Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman.
If there is a need for a 17th player (and don’t kill me for saying this), Fawad Alam should be picked for being in brilliant form this season.