Pakistan cricket January 13, 2011

Test cricket, a wiser priority

Test wins for Pakistan are rare pleasures. The last time they enjoyed two in succession was in 2005, and the wins were five months apart

Test wins for Pakistan are rare pleasures. The last time they enjoyed two in succession was in 2005, and the wins were five months apart. The last time Pakistan won back to back Tests in a series was against Bangladesh in 2003. Four wins in the last twenty Tests speaks for itself.

Pakistan fans are long-suffering but never patient. Each twist and turn is dissected in microscopic detail. But despite innumerable setbacks, the only event to diminish their passion for cricket has been the demoralising spot-fixing drama of this last year.

Now, out of the wreckage of the scandal, Pakistan's current team has emerged with surprising resilience. A seemingly decimated and dishevelled national squad has produced a creditworthy drawn series against South Africa followed by a rapid destruction of New Zealand in the first Test in Hamilton. Win or lose the final Test, Pakistan will only have lost one of their last four Test series -- and that loss was possibly in the most traumatic series in Pakistan's history.

In these difficult times, Pakistan's Test statistics are worth pondering. For all the focus on limited-over internationals, and everybody's assumption that the shorter form is Pakistan's natural game, perhaps Test cricket offers a better route to salvation. Shahid Afridi's preference for the shorter formats is understandable but is that best for Pakistan cricket?

A strong Test team offers a much firmer foundation for success in all formats, while players who excel at Twenty20 cricket often offer little in Test cricket. When Pakistan won the 1992 World Cup it was with attacking Test-style bowling. When Pakistan were a strong Test team in the 1980s and 1990s, they were also strong challengers for each World Cup.

The benefit of one-day cricket for Pakistan, in recent years in particular, is that it has helped gloss over the deficiencies in technique and temperament that can be exposed at Test level. As such T20 and ODI cricket have become the measures of success; Test cricket a neglected form.

Yet the preference for one-day cricket is damaging the resurrection of Pakistan cricket and a strong Test team should be the Pakistan Cricket Board's top priority, above winning the next World Cup or T20 World Championship. Yes, we should want success in those tournaments but as a by-product of a strong Test team, not at the expense of it.

With the third best win/loss ratio in Test cricket, Pakistan have a record to be proud of, defend, and build upon -- and that despite the calamity of the last decade. This statistic alone places Pakistan above India and South Africa in the all-time list, although some way behind Australia and England.

The recent consolidation in Test cricket -- consolidation is all it is as wins have been few -- might be brief but it suddenly exists. Pakistan aren't a great side, they aren't even yet a good side, but they have shown some resilience and a splash of potential. Whether this attitude has emerged in response to the adversity of last summer or thanks to the absence of bad influences, will only emerge in time. Still, it should remind Pakistan's administrators and cricketers where their priorities should lie.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here