KARACHI: Pakistan traditionally does not have a good relationship with Test cricket, and especially from the early 90’s till the late 2000’s, the team was considered brilliant in the shorter format and just competitive enough in the longest format of the game.
But then came in not so young, mature and calm Misbahul Haq, after the 2010 spot-fixing scandal who proved to be the turning point in Pakistan’s Test cricket fortunes.
Under Misbah’s leadership, Pakistan’s cricketing started rotating anti-clockwise and from a power house in the ODIs and mediocre in Tests, the team turned into an underperforming side in 50-over cricket and world beaters in the five-day format.
And in 2016, came the landmark moment when Pakistan became the number one Test team and held the spot briefly following an impressive 2-2 draw in the four-Test series in England.
However, 2017 was not a great year for team Pakistan in Test cricket, primarily for two reason, one, because the team lost two of its most valuable assets in Misbah and country’s all-time highest run-getter in the five-day format Younus Khan, and two, because the team managed to register just two victories in six matches.
Due to that reason, the team finished 2017 as low as seventh in the ICC Test rankings, which was a great dip considering the fact that the team was on the top of the ladder less than 15 months back.
If we evaluate the team’s batting performance, there was a visible decline compared to 2016, as collectively team’s overall average dropped from 29.35 to 26.16, whereas the strike rates came down from nearly 50 to 43.24.
Opener Azhar Ali was the team’s most consistent performer throughout the year and finished as the highest run-scorer with 504 runs at an average of 42 which included two centuries and three fifties. But it was former captain Misbah who finished the year with the top average of 54.5 in four matches.
Out of all the top six batsmen, young Babar Azam had a year to forget as he only managed to score 184 runs in six matches at a disappointing average of 16.72.
In the bowling department, surprisingly the team performed better than 2016 as the overall strike rate came down from 68.1 to 62.4 and average reduced from 37.87 to 30.08. Not only that, team’s economy rate also significantly improved as it reduced from 3.33 to 2.89.
The leading performer for the team was once again leg-spinner Yasir Shah, who finished the year with 43 wickets at an impressive average of less than 29 and strike rate of 55.
Out of all the top bowlers who played in more than two matches at least, pacer Mohammad Amir had the most difficult time of all, as the left-arm pacer managed to claim just 14 wickets at an average of nearly 34 and strike rate of 90.6.
Six defining moments for Pakistan Test cricket in 2017
Younus’ century in Australia: Going 2-0 down in the final match of the series and first of the year 2017, Pakistan had not much at stake except pride, and after Australia posted a mammoth 538 in the first innings, things looked ominous for the visitors at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG). But then walked in a defiant Younus Khan who till that point had scores of 0, 64, 21 and 24 in the series. While facing the likes of in-form Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, Younus showed great composure and determination to produce what was his last century in international cricket. The Mardan-born right-handed batsman finished with a breathtaking 175 off 334 balls with the help 17 fours and three sixes, which earned him praise from the SCG crowd and therefore is our first defining moment from Pakistan Test cricket in 2017.
Another whitewash in Australia: Pakistan went to tour New Zealand and Australia as the number two team in the ICC Test rankings and there were expectations that for the first time in more than two decades, the team from the subcontinent will be able to put up a tough fight or even clinch the series Down Under. However, what followed was the same old script as team Pakistan faced another embarrassing whitewash against the mighty Kangaroos. The tour started on a promising note in Brisbane, where the Misbah-led side came alarmingly close to chasing down the world-record target of 490, courtesy Asad Shafiq’s brilliant 137 but the team fell just short after he departed. But second Test onwards, Australia found their feet and gave nothing away against struggling Pakistan, as the home side registered a comfortable innings and 18 runs victory in Melbourne, which was followed by a 220-run victory in Sydney.
Younus completes 10,000 runs: On April 21, 2017, middle-order batsman Younus Khan became the first Pakistani batsman to join the elite club of cricketers who have scored 10,000 runs in the longest format of the game, during the third day of the first Test against West Indies. While achieving the feat, the then 39-year-old became the oldest cricketer to reach the landmark, overtaking West Indian great Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who got there at the age of 37 years and 254 days. Younus achieved the milestone in 116 Tests, which was the second fastest after West Indian great Brian Lara, who completed it in 111 matches. The legendary batsman retired at the end of the same series and finished with 10,099 runs at an impressive average of 52.05 with 34 centuries and 33 fifties to his name.
MisYou Farewell: On May 14, 2017, one of the most celebrated pair in Pakistan’s Test history, Misbahul Haq and Younus Khan, retired from the game following a chaotic finish in the third Test of the West Indies tour. After receiving hammerings in New Zealand and Australia, the duo received criticism for their performances on arguably two of the most difficult venues for the Asian teams. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), however, restrained themselves from retiring the aged Misbah and Younus forcefully, and instead gave them the opportunity to decide their future. After weeks of discussions, the pair decided to call off their international career after the West Indies Test series. With their departure, Pakistan team lost two of their most dependable players, who time and again helped them recover in difficult times, which is why they had 15,321 runs under their belt combined with 44 centuries and 71 fifties.
First-ever victory in West Indies: West Indies was one of the few venues where Pakistan failed to register a Test series win, until 2017. It was the team’s ninth series in the five-day format against the Caribbean giants on the latter’s home soil. On a dramatic final day of the three-Test series, which stood level at 1-1, after Pakistan won the first match by seven wickets and West Indies clinched the second by 106 runs, the home side looked certain for a defeat after losing six wickets with more than 50 overs of play left. However, a master class of an innings from Roston Chase brought visitors within touching distance of a memorable draw. But on the last ball of the second last over of the series, leg-spinner Yasir Shah’s flighted delivery teased tail-ender Shannon Gabriel, who just couldn’t let go of the chance to spank it over midwicket, but instead chopped it back on to the stumps — giving Pakistan their first-ever series victory in West Indies and a deserving farewell to Misbah and Younus.
Sri Lanka series loss: Ever since Pakistan were made to play in the UAE following an attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore back in 2009, the team had managed five win and four draws out of the nine Test series they played in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai. However, the undefeated streak came to an end against a young and inexperienced Sri Lanka team, as Pakistan clearly couldn’t come to terms of playing without their two most senior pros — Misbah and Younus — who had retired after the West Indies series earlier in the year. Their absence was felt massively as the home side faced an embarrassing defeat by 21 runs in the first Test while chasing just 136, and in the second Test by 68 runs primarily because of the poor first innings display where Sarfraz Ahmed-led unit conceded a 220-run lead.