- 30 Dec - 05 Jan, 2018
A REFRESHING YEAR FOR PAKISTAN CRICKET
- 30 Dec - 05 Jan, 2018
- Year In Review
On a sunlit day in London, Pakistan made the year 2017 memorable. From the bottom ranked team that was competing for the Champions Trophy and after a huge loss in their opening game against India, they turned around and never looked back once past the Sri Lankans in the final do-or-die game for both sides. A few days after that game where Sarfraz Ahmed, the ODI captain, led the side to a remarkable chase, the young Pakistani captain was lifting the trophy, the first time Pakistan had won it. That it came after they devastated India in the final was an unforgettable event. There are victories and there are victories against India. It was undoubtedly the crowning moment for Pakistan in the calendar year 2017. On either side of that, they had setbacks, some that were always possible and some that were not on the cards.
The year started with Pakistan 0-2 down in the 3 test series in Australia. There were hopes that Pakistan would stave off a clean sweep by the hosts and with both Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan likely to be playing their last test in Australia, the Pakistani fans expected a grittier farewell on Australian grounds. However, an opening stand of 151 was what welcomed Pakistan on their first playing day of the new year. And then a total of 538-8 declared left Pakistan with the prospect only of saving the game. Yes, Younis proved yet again what a master he can be in the final Test (remember his double hundred at The Oval in 2016 that turned around the Test for Pakistan?). It was he again who stood his ground with an unbeaten 175 out of 315 and though Australia didn’t enforce the follow on, but the target of nearly 500 was of course too much for a tired side. A clean sweep for the Aussies again, the third time in three successive tours by Pakistan.
In the five ODIs that followed, not much was expected. If the Test side that had ranked No.1 just four months back couldn’t fight off Australia, what chance did they have considering they were ranked No.9 in ODIs at the start of the 2016-17 season in September? Though they managed a solitary win when skipper Azhar Ali wasn’t available and stand-in skipper, Mohammad Hafeez stepped in with a match winning all-round performance; it did not stop them from being crushed 1-4.
Now Misbah had had enough and he targeted the West Indies tour for his farewell to international cricket. Closer to the tour, Younis dropped a bombshell when he said that he too would be hanging his gloves after the tour. There was a bit of panic, considering there was clearly another two years in him if not more. But his decision was final.
Considering the strength of the two sides, Pakistan was expected to win. But just how hard-fought the Test series would become was probably not envisaged. However, before that would be the T20 and ODI series in which Sarfraz would be leading. They were won not too comfortably either. In fact, the ODI series could have been drawn but a 3-run win in the second game from nowhere got Pakistan a 1-3 finish. In the T20I series, Sarfraz surprisingly lost his first ever T20I as captain but Pakistan was always the superior side and won 2-1 in the end against the reigning T20 champions of the world.
This was why it was thought that the Test series, a format in which West Indies just don’t have the stamina or commitment, would be a clean sweep for Pakistan. But by the time the third Test came it was 1-1. It was astonishing what happened to Misbah on his farewell series. He was left unbeaten on 99 in the first innings of the first Test that Pakistan won chasing a target of only 36. And in the second Test he was caught on 99! Can’t remember last when a batsmen went back for 99 in two consecutive innings.
But Pakistan lost that game after scoring nearly 400 runs in their first innings. Chasing a target of 187, they floundered inexplicably to West Indian pacers on what was admittedly a difficult pitch. But a score of 36-7 was unimaginable still. Eventually, they were scuttled for 81 and Misbah wondered if he would become the first Pakistani to win a Test series in West Indies, something that had appeared so within reach halfway into the game.
It was to be in the final moments of the third test that fate would make him that sole winner. The target of 303 was what Pakistan had set the hosts after a big first innings lead and a helter-skelter scoring outing for a declaration in the second. At 93-6 around lunch it seemed a cakewalk. Yet the tension continued as Roston Chase stood between Pakistan and a record that had eluded them since 1957-58. Skipper Jason Holder helped him as he batted for 85 minutes, Devendra Bishoo for another 71 minutes and then Joseph for an hour. With half an hour to go, last man Gabriel dug in and no matter what Misbah threw it simply seemed insufficient. With seven balls to go in the Test Yasir Shah ran up to bowl his last ball of the series. With the entire team around the bat, Gabriel hit out and under-edged into his stumps. It was a fitting farewell to the pair known as MisYou. And miss them they did in the very next Test series.
That was against Sri Lanka, possibly the most pathetic side of the year in all departments in 2017, and losing two home series 0-3, as well as the games in the shorter format. They came to play Pakistan in their alter-home, the UAE. Pakistan was fresh from a Champions trophy win in England and on a high. Sarfraz had been named captain for the Test side as well. Yet the unimaginable occurred.
Pakistan blundered by picking only one spinner in both Tests and that allowed Sri Lanka to post 400 plus in both games’ first innings. Yet Pakistan had only 159 to get to win the first Test and was bowled out for 138 on a good pitch with no pressure of time. In the second Test, it was a stiffer target 314 after they had bowled out Sri Lanka for 96. But picking up from 52-5 Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz took the score to 225 on the morning of the final day. But they then collapsed to 248 all out and Sri Lanka had clean swept them against all odds.
Pakistan was to get back to winning ways however, in return clean sweeping them in the 5-match ODI and the 3-game T20I rubber. But the Test defeats due to faulty strategy and batting collapses hurt.
Nevertheless, the crowning glory for Pakistan was the advent of some sort of international cricket at home. That came in the form of a World XI touring Pakistan under Faf du Plessis. Though there were a few big names in the tourists’ line up, Pakistan were clearly strong on home ground. The stands were packed and cricket came home to a great welcome. Pakistan won the opening and final game and lost the second against the run of form. But the result was not what mattered. What did matter was that after the Zimbabweans a couple of years ago and the PSL final in Lahore earlier this year, foreign players had come and gone safely.
Given the stunning loss in the Test series to Sri Lanka and the solitary win against Australia out of six international games, Pakistan played against them in January, it can be said that this 70th year of Independence ended with good marks for Pakistan still. Surely, Pakistan will remember Sarfraz shrieking his way around the Oval field with his winning catch, the Pakistan side huddling a runaway Yasir Shah after the final wicket of Gabriel, and of course Misbah and Younis draped in Pakistani flags on their farewell. Those three will be, for me, the unforgettable moments of 2017.