Six Pakistani collapses, one story
Visit a Pakistani's home and he will offer you tea; give a Pakistani a melody and she will make a beautiful song out of it; ask some Pakistanis to bat and they'll eventually collapse.
The collapse is the great tragicomedy of cricket, and in recent years has become quite a recurring event, even for once-mighty sides. But like Michael Jackson with pop, Pakistan have the ability to transcend the collapse beyond its genre, producing works that are instantly unique and yet timeless.
The simplified narrative about Misbah-ul-Haq's team and the discipline it espouses leads one to believe that this side is immune to collapses, but that is not at all the case. Each year of Misbah's six as leader has seen some ridiculous implosions, though what distinguishes his side is their ability to fight back afterwards. However, even for this Pakistan team, which held the No. 1 position in Tests for a while, 2016 has been a remarkable year for collapses.
At least part of the problem resides in the origin story of #TeamMisbah. In its first couple of years, the team distinguished themselves by their grit, holding their own in tough rearguard situations.
Defeat in Galle in 2014, courtesy another collapse, suggested that the once-successful strategy of batting slowly to take time out of the game was becoming a problem. The following year, Pakistan embarked on a golden run in which they batted heavily and more quickly on their way to a number of wins.
By 2016, the change was quite apparent. Of the four wins this year, only in the second innings at Lord's did Pakistan score below 3.18 runs per over. In the five losses, they didn't cross 3.31 per over; in six of those innings in matches lost, they scored under three an over. In Christchurch, Hamilton, Sharjah, Edgbaston and Old Trafford, these efforts came in the midst of stunning collapses.
The only exception was Dubai, where Pakistan collapsed while scoring faster than they have in any innings this year. But what Dubai had in common with the collapses in Christchurch and Sharjah, in particular, was a peculiarly Pakistani tradition - the abject surrender to an otherwise limited bowler. The successes of Devendra Bishoo, Jason Holder and Colin de Grandhomme were not surprising, given that over the years, Pakistani batsmen have made heroes out of the likes of Murphy Su'a, Paul Harris, Imran Tahir, Marcus North, Nick Cook and Neil Mallender among others.
The collapses of 2016 also show some more general trends that are not specific to Pakistan per se. For example, the team repeatedly displayed the modern trait of largely batting in one gear in Test cricket. Unlike most teams, though, Pakistan's preferred gear is neutral. In Hamilton and Dubai, they struggled to impose themselves when the situation demanded it and collapsed when aggression was required. More worryingly, at Edgbaston and in Sharjah, Pakistan struggled in closing out the game - a skill that used to be this team's forte.
Like in every collapse, there were many poor shots in Pakistan's various failures, but once again it was a case of almost always only poor shots, with few good deliveries to be seen. Forty-five wickets fell in the six collapses discussed below, and even applying the most lax of standards, at least 35 fell to totally avoidable and largely brainless shots.
Edgbaston, 8 for 72
The key to any good collapse is panic, and there can be no panic greater than knowing you are about to lose a match in which you held a 100-run lead. On this site, Jarrod Kimber described the collapse as "going the full Hafeez". The hapless opener had indeed got out to (yet another) loose shot, but he wasn't part of the eventual collapse. Pakistan stabilised before throwing it all away. Both Misbah and Younis Khan fell to good balls on the fifth stump that drew a shot, and Yasir Shah received a very good lifter. The other seven batsmen fell to more ordinary deliveries, almost always playing shots they didn't need to.
Old Trafford, 5 for 33
This collapse en route to a crushing defeat wasn't quite as wondrous as the others, but did include a charmingly Pakistani brain fade. Seeking to bat out the day in reply to a mammoth first-innings total by England, both Azhar Ali and Younis fell to needless shots. At this point Pakistan decided to send easily the worst batsman of their fragile tail as nightwatchman. Rahat Ali was soon bounced out, and the next morning Shan Masood offered a simple catch to slip. Asad Shafiq then rounded off the slide by playing a truly terrible drive straight to backward point.
Dubai, 8 for 46
This innings unfolded a bit like a shy adult being asked to mind a bratty child. It appears to be a simple task and yet the adult finds himself unable to deal with the brat kicking his shins and calling him names. Pakistan were extremely uncomfortable walking out to score quickly in a match they had dominated until then. Bishoo played the role of the impish prodigy, taking a remarkable eight wickets. No Pakistan batsman was a victim of a good ball: they slogged, dragged on and played against the turn to almost throw away the match.
Sharjah, 4 for 11
The annals of cricket history are filled with the romantic exploits of Caribbean fast bowlers bouncing out terrified batsmen, but none of them can quite compare to Holder's heist in Sharjah. Bowling a little quicker than gentle, he managed to bounce out Pakistan's top order, who used leaden feet and wild swishes to help him to his career-best first-class figures (5 for 30). The tail put up more of a fight, but it was undone by a truly marvellous run-out. Mohammad Amir had spent several minutes admiring a shot he thought was going to be a six, and had started to walk towards the non-striker, Wahab Riaz, when he suddenly realised that the ball was live and was being thrown back in. He ran back without his bat in a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to make his ground.
Christchurch, 10 for 102
Most teams would struggle if sent in to bat on a rain-affected pitch greener than jade. Pakistan's situation was made worse by the fact that their tour games had been washed out, leaving this their first bat of the trip. But like Radiohead after OK Computer, Pakistani batsmen were unwilling to do what was expected of them. After seeing off the dangerous opening pair of Tim Southee and Trent Boult, they proceeded to collapse to the dibbly-dobbly charms of de Grandhomme, who went on to set a record for the best figures by a New Zealand bowler on debut. Almost none of his deliveries were truly lethal. Sticking to a fourth-to-fifth-stump line, he picked up Babar Azam, Younis and Shafiq thanks to some terrible shots.
Hamilton, 10 for 99
The final release in an awe-inspiring collection, Hamilton was the Ozymandias moment of Pakistani collapses - "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair." How many sides can imagine batting out two whole sessions in serenity before losing nine wickets in the last session of the match? As always, Pakistan took it a step further by making this the third time in their history that they lost ten wickets for less than 100 runs after putting together a century-plus opening stand. Indeed, such opening stands seem to be the kiss of death for Pakistan, who were once 101 for 0 before losing all ten wickets to Anil Kumble. The shot selection in Hamilton was ludicrous as only Amir and Wahab fell to decent deliveries. More than the context, it was the concept itself that merited admiration here. Any magician knows that every great trick requires a great distraction, and by batting out 59.5 overs for no wicket, Pakistan unveiled their most magical collapse of the year.