KARACHI: Two days away from the all-important third Test in the series of four, Pakistan are looking at a golden opportunity to win the series on English soil for the first time since 1996, where under the captaincy of Wasim Akram, the visiting team defeated the hosts 2-0 on their home ground.
Twenty years down the line and a lot has changed, and in every aspect. It is not the defensive minded England team of 1996 that mostly played the game to exhaust the opposition by playing out dot balls after dot balls. And it is not the same Pakistan team which has the likes of world-class performers like Saeed Anwar, Inzamamul Haq, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, who had the ability to beat any opposition on any playing surface.
One major discrepancy between now and then is the difference of batting class between the two teams, where the visitors dominated the proceedings two decades back with complete authority over the hosts. Meanwhile, so far in the ongoing series, it looks anything but that.
In the famous 1996 tour, Pakistan had four batsmen – Saeed Anwar (362), Ijaz Ahmed (344), Inzamamul Haq (320) and Salim Malik (195) – in the top-five run getters of the series, with only Alec Stewart (396) managing to show some real fight against a top quality bowling opponent.
In the batting averages department, Pakistan had shown even more staggering performances with five players finishing in top six highest averages for the series, with England’s Stewart being the sixth one.
Contrastingly, after the first two Tests this year, only two of the top six run-getters were from the visiting side: captain Misbahul Haq and Asad Shafiq.
What’s more frightening for Misbah's XI is that no other player has an average of even over 30 runs per innings, whereas two of our top seven averages less than 20 runs per innings.
Going deeper into the stats, the problem seems to be a familiar one. In the Asian conditions or similar surfaces, Pakistan's batting lineup stands with the best in the world. However, that fact is hardly astounding, as other teams also perform extraordinarily in their home conditions.
What’s worrying about Pakistan’s batting is that there is a monumental difference in their performances at home and away, which indicates a real problem on the team management and coaching staff's hands, as there is not much to choose from the bench as well.
With Shan Masood travelling on his first tour outside Asia with the national team and with Younus Khan averaging nearly 60 outside Asia before this tour, the problem actually lies with three of the most consistent performers in the sub-continental conditions: veteran opener Mohammad Hafeez, ODI captain Azhar Ali and T20I captain Sarfraz Ahmed.
All three players have been in the national side for quite a while now, and the team was depending on Hafeez and Azhar to take the responsibility on top of the order to provide a solid start, and was hoping for Sarfraz to provide much needed runs down the order in the presence of a long tail, but that was not the to be.
Hafeez, Azhar and Sarfraz average 25, 17 and 25 respectively, after the first four innings, but those numbers are not the real deal as the triplet's overseas record suggests there is not much to hope for in the future as well.
Outside Asia, the three players average 14, 16 and 18 respectively in 40 innings together, with only two half-centuries between them and both scored by Azhar - one against Zimbabwe and the other against South Africa.
The same three players have averages of 54.62, 52.36 and 38.67 since World Cup 2015 while playing on the Asian pitches.
An even more nerve-racking sign is that all these players still posses the same problem which they did before; playing a loose shot outside the off-stump.
This time around, Azhar, who was supposed to be one of our most technically correct batsman, is found wanting with the deliveries coming back in, as the English bowlers troubled him with consistent inswingers, which saw him leg-before-wicket thrice out of four innings.
With half of the series still to go, there is still a lot at stake, and the pitch at Edgbaston will prove another test for team Pakistan, where if they manage to achieve something substantial in the batting department, it might well be a start of something special for the team, who had the darkest days of their cricketing history at the same grounds.