Pakistan in 2009 January 7, 2010

The darkest hour

The Lahore attacks overshadowed every other crisis the country's cricket had ever been through, but the World Twenty20 win and two teenagers eased the pain a touch

This wasn't a year so much as a lifetime. The polite thing to do is be grateful that 2009 has ended so we can start afresh, with new hope for a new year and decade. But given that every year of Pakistan cricket since 2005 has been considerably worse than the last, perhaps it is sensible to hope that 2009 hasn't ended.

The least traumatic fact was that Pakistan had four different captains, three in Tests alone. In a way there was even something soothingly retro about that; it used to be done in the 90s, when Pakistan were still up to something. But any dark humour the year provided, any joy or reason to smile, was overshadowed by the overwhelming darkness of March 3 and the terror attacks on the Sri Lankan team.

The security lapse was shocking enough, more so as Sri Lanka had stepped in to tour when nobody else was willing to; at once it allowed all those boards who had not wanted to come to Pakistan to breathe a sigh of relief and nod knowingly. But the PCB's reaction in absolving itself of any blame and instead attacking some of those caught in the attack - even in the history of this wretched board, nothing has been as shameful, not the match-fixing crisis, or any cock-up. Obviously none were sacked. Some got promoted.

Thus after an entire decade of threatening to do so, finally international cricket came to an end in Pakistan. Unsurprisingly the 2011 World Cup was lost and the board quibbled about it, losing what few friends it had in the process. The real fallout will emerge in coming years; cancelled tours by India, the lost World Cup and no tours at home till, optimistically, 2011, has left an already hard-up administration near financial ruin. How will they work the years ahead? Where will they play? What comes of TV rights? Even more difficult times lie in wait.

On the upside, at least Pakistan played some Test cricket, and given what happened in 2008, that is something to smile about. Shame, though, that they played much of it as if unused to the format. They had their moments in Sri Lanka and New Zealand, and even in Australia. You could even argue that they should have won the series in Sri Lanka and New Zealand, but their madcap moments far outnumbered the good. Usually it came from the batting, which felt much like the subjects of many doom-mongering reports about the country that predict imminent collapse; except, of course, the batting actually did so, and regularly. They didn't win a single ODI series through the year either.

Amid all this there were, of course, those crazy days of summer, when for a little while something other than bombs, load-shedding, wars in the country and politicians occupied the mind. Pakistan's World Twenty20 triumph was so well-timed it felt unreal, and it was done, in essence, in the best Pakistani way. There was a stirring run in the Champions Trophy soon after as well, but once that was over, Pakistan began to do what it does best: To put a twist to what has become popular imagery, Pakistan began to negotiate with itself, holding a gun to its own head. And the negotiations didn't go too well.

Those months were a brief headrush of respite from another long, sad and quite tragic year.

New kid(s) on the block
Umar Akmal and Mohammad Aamer were two reasons why nobody will ever give up on Pakistan cricket. The two debuted in 2009, months apart, and have since impressed around the world. Akmal is potentially the country's next big batting star, technically sound, mentally refreshing and fearless. Aamer is 17 in body, much older in mind, quick and spiky and set to prolong Pakistan's pace lineage. Both have slipped effortlessly into all three formats, and importantly both have worked their way through Pakistan's system. On them much rests.

Fading star
Shoaib Malik began the year as Pakistan's captain in all three formats. He ended it 12th man in the Boxing Day Test, a peripheral figure in the touring squad. Much of the year was spent discussing his role in intrigues and politicking and not so much about his playing.

High point
The World Twenty20 win was among the most uplifting bits of news for the whole country through this year or the last. It came at just the right time, when impending international isolation was threatening to condemn Pakistan to a fate worse than death: cricketing anonymity. Nobody will ever forget Umar Gul's spell, Younis Khan's fun, Aamer's first over in the final, or Abdul Razzaq's wickets. Shahid Afridi was all over it, though, with that catch, the fifties, the wickets and the kiss to Jacques Kallis.

What 2010 holds
A busy year lies ahead, with an Australian tour to be completed and a defence of the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean. The summer brings with it a key moment in Pakistan's history: they will play six Tests in England, two of them against Australia, as "hosts". A home has to be found and how the summer goes will be crucial in determining a location. More than anything else though, nobody would mind a little bit of sanity.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

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