February 2, 2014

A victory most un-Pakistani

For all the talents that Pakistan's cricketers possess, the team has never been good at chasing. Which is why Sharjah came as a surprise

Few Pakistan fans are likely to forget the anguish brought on by the loss in Sydney in 2010 © Getty Images

The pitch may not have been a "Bunsen" but it was still a fifth-day Asian wicket. The target was over 300. Pakistan had less than two sessions. Against them was Rangana Herath - once the scourge of Pakistan (and only Pakistan, a la Nuwan Kulasekara), but now the best fingerspinner in the world. And Pakistan still got home.

It went against history but more than anything it went against the team's character. For all the bravado, false or otherwise, that Pakistan's cricketers possess, their team has never been good at chasing. Only seven times in their history have Pakistan won by scoring more than 200 in the fourth innings. Only one of those instances was between 1984 and 2002 - or to put it another way, the greatest teams in the country's history only once managed what Misbah-ul-Haq's side pulled off against Sri Lanka last month.

The current players may have been brought up hearing stories of their predecessors' run chases and they may have grown up understanding the Maghrib chase like the back of their hands, but Pakistan are not a chasing team.

I know this may sound like Chris Rock repeating the same line over and over, but Pakistan don't chase well. The dread Pakistanis experience when chasing is as bad as what South Africans seem to go through in knockout one-dayers. Actually it might be worse, since the Proteas are at least consistent. Pakistan's cricket teams have scarred two generations of fans, ensuring that they never accept that their team could be anything but terrible at chasing.

Every sports fan has the miracle he believes in. For Pakistanis it has always been their bowling. Always. Pakistan's haal - a term that refers to a state of ecstasy - exists because the players, and the fans, believe in comebacks. But nearly always that haal is brought about with the ball in hand. There may have been the rare Abdul Razzaq innings (or the even rarer Shahid Afridi cameo), but those are as common as the giant panda. Mostly the memories of batting last bring forth a listing of failures.

This is because chasing requires competence, consistency and calmness - qualities most lacking even in the best Pakistani cricketers. Inzamam-ul-Haq is Pakistan's greatest chaser in the post-Miandad era, and Younis Khan is one of the great fourth-innings batsmen, and those were the two who bucked the trend. Beyond them most Pakistani batsmen mastered only the art of looking like a deer in the headlights.

In January, 2010, Pakistan lost a Test match to Australia in Sydney. The most common Facebook status on that day, an iteration of which even my brother put up, was: "Why do I still care about this lot?" It's a question all Pakistanis ask themselves after such heartbreaks.

Why does the failure of a bunch of adults playing a game, connected to you only by an accident of birth and the drawing of man-made boundaries, affect your mood, your day, your week? You ask yourself this, hoping that this might be the catalyst to you taking a Seinfeldian approach towards sport. Every wicket falling is like a piece of your soul shredding away, until - like at the end of the Sydney Test - you are just a husk, questioning the point of your existence. Thus the lone saviours, the Miandads and Inzis, are praised to the roof, for these are competent men in the land of incompetence.

And that is why the third Test in Sharjah was so weird. Sure, Sri Lanka made mistakes - led by Angelo Mathews' refusal to stick with the logical. But Pakistan didn't make mistakes. And that was the oddest aspect. Pakistan went for the win from the first over - an obvious decision, considering they were 1-0 down, but better Pakistani teams have settled for less. And they didn't relent even when their openers fell. The promotion of Sarfraz Ahmed was bold - a nod to his form, and his willingness to go for it - but the move was also ensconced in the knowledge that, if he failed, Misbah would be there to shut shop if need be. After Sarfraz fell, Pakistan could still have fallen by the wayside. Instead Misbah and Azhar Ali, the embodiment of tuk-tuk, went at over five an over.

This chase could change both the players and the fans. Pakistan have a better win-loss ratio batting second than batting first in ODIs under Misbah (against the other teams in the top eight), but you would be hard-pressed to find a single Pakistani fan who would want the team to bowl first after winning the toss. This despite the fact that the two best ODI batsmen Pakistan have had in the last few years - Misbah and Umar Akmal - have a significantly better record when chasing than setting up totals.

But this doesn't mean Pakistan are a chasing team. The Pakistani captain prefers to bat second, yet he is defined by his failure to deliver successfully when under the spotlight. The most significant memories from ODIs when Pakistan under Misbah have chased might be the loss in the third ODI to India in January 2013, or the loss in the first ODI to South Africa last October - two classic Pakistani chases. How one "feels" when Pakistan bat second is more important than the numbers, after all.

Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, writer and commentator, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on February 4, 2014, 12:33 GMT


    Misbah will never be forgiven (rightfully or wrongfuly) for two major games. The 2007 T20 final when HE lost us the game (even tho He got us so close) and the defeat to India in the World Cup in Mohali when he batted so slow that pressure built immensely on the other batsmen (but hey he did get a 50!!!)

    Those two defeats will linger long in the minds of Pakistani fans although we will always give credit for when he does it well (the SL test win etc) We just wish he did it well more often

  • Dummy on February 4, 2014, 5:21 GMT

    Definitely I agree with ur article but insha-allah Pakistan will show there dedication while chasing and one day u must write an article praising the chasing records of pak insha-allah

  • Jo on February 4, 2014, 1:00 GMT

    When Pak unit play as a team... nothing can stand between them and their dictation... to some extent true to NZ as well. The players just have to put their hand in the chest and ask themselves before stepping into the ground, what are we playing for today..?

  • Dummy4 on February 3, 2014, 15:32 GMT

    Its a thought provoking article. For 16 years Australia could't beat India in India. Steve Waugh even called India romantically as the last frontier for Australian cricket team. But India byters can't have any of it. Fans have short memories. Indian teams exploits under Ganguly in England and excellent fights they had in Australia under Kumble, were forgotten quickly. Add to that our recent performances in SA and NZ seems is not helping ...

  • Ian on February 3, 2014, 12:45 GMT

    I assure you that it is perfectly possible to be passionate about those 11 men even though you don't come from the same country as they do. Pakistan, at their best, can write the most romantic stories in cricket, but unfortunately, too many of them end up as tragedies. Here's hoping that we get more glorious days such as these!

  • Dummy4 on February 3, 2014, 11:49 GMT

    Pakistan team is generally classified as team with individual brilliance but no team work. I think its slowly changing to team work since the current team beret of any superstars.. except for Shahid Afridi offcourse. Its like their team and fans can't live with him nor without him..

  • Arslan on February 3, 2014, 10:04 GMT

    Problem with Pakistani team is the non performing leeches who keep hanging and keep bleeding the team with out true contributions. In last 10 years , shoiab malik was kept for being all rounder who seldom finish his 10 overs quota.Abdul Razzaq keep playing for lower order bat performances with limited bowling effectiveness. Hafiz is in for his bowling performances, Kamran Akmal was kept in team for once in blue moon batting performances with being worst keeper in Pakistan History. Imran Farhat sneaked in the team every time his father in law got a chance to do so. On other side when ever they drop a guy for his non performance he always came back stronger recent example is Azhar Ali, even Inzamam returned with herculean efforts after being dropped . If they pick their team purely on merit it is still a good team.

  • Imran on February 3, 2014, 9:15 GMT

    Nice one.. Misbah is doing a great job. Umar akmal should be given a chance in test as well

  • Ashok on February 3, 2014, 7:58 GMT

    On a somewhat unrelated note: I frequently wonder why Misbah Ul Haq always draws flak for his 'tuk tuk' approach. He's had to work with limitations no Pakistani captain has ever faced before (no fixtures at home), worked with a team scarred bythe spot fixing crisis and years of underperformance. And yet, he's moulded it into a fairly consistent side that's regularly challenged the best of sides, quite apart from maintaining a pretty healthy average as an individual player. As an outsider, I really wonder: What more does he have to do to gain admiration/ respect?

  • Faridoon on February 3, 2014, 6:44 GMT

    Very well written article. So many points ring true, especially the probing questions of why we care so much for a bunch of men losing at a game just because they come from the same country that I do. I've seen calm and sophisticated men blow up in a tirade of obscenity at their TV screens when a catch or two go down.

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