2011 Review

What, no nightmares?

After five years of increasing horror, Pakistan spent 2011 triumphing on the field and cleaning the stables off it

Saad Shafqat

December 27, 2011

Comments: 36 | Text size: A | A

Junaid Khan sends Mahela Jayawardene on his way, Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Abu Dhabi, 1st day, October 18, 2011
Pakistan beat a side ranked higher than them in Tests and in the process found in Junaid Khan a bowler who could fill the void left by Mohammad Amir © AFP
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Pakistan found much reason to rejoice in 2011. There was success on the field, a welcome change of guard at the PCB, and the criminal conviction of corrupt players. Judged on performance, they are hardly recognisable as the same team that had been muddling through for the last few years.

In Test cricket, Pakistan won series against New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Their only defeat came in a match against West Indies, and that too was in a drawn series. In ODIs, Pakistan won 24 of their 32 matches, a new national record that incorporates seven series wins and a courageous semi-final showing in the 2011 World Cup. In T20 matches, Pakistan won four out of five, the only defeat coming against West Indies in April. In all three formats, Pakistan went through the year with a win-loss ratio at or near the top in world cricket.

Granted they did not play the toughest of opponents, but their ranking still improved, from sixth to fifth in both Tests and ODIs, and from seventh to sixth in T20s. Towards the end of the year, several Pakistani names were spotted among the top tens: Younis Khan in Test batting; Umar Akmal in ODI batting; Saeed Ajmal in Test, ODI, and T20 bowling; Mohammad Hafeez in ODI bowling and ODI and T20 all-round performance; and Shahid Afridi in bowling and all-round performance in both ODIs and T20s. Compared with last year, the turnaround is dramatic, and surely cause for celebration no matter what.

New kid on the block
The most notable debutant this year was Junaid Khan. Although newcomer and fellow seamer Aizaz Cheema ended the year with more wickets, Junaid missed the Bangladesh series with a muscle tear and his tally must be judged accordingly. He was most impressive during the Test series against Sri Lanka, picking up 12 wickets from three matches, including a five-for, and dismissing the best Sri Lankan batsmen at key moments. Junaid possesses seam movement, lively pace, the skill to reverse, and the left-armer's ability to angle the ball across. He has the potential to fill the spot vacated by Mohammad Amir.

Although Hafeez isn't exactly a new kid on the block, he is living a recently acquired second life in Pakistan cricket, which effectively makes him so. His tally of ten international match awards in 2011 is the team's best (Afridi is next with five, followed by Umar Akmal with four and Misbah with three). Re-entering the side after a nearly three-year gap at the 2010 World Twenty20, Hafeez has become one of its pillars, as valuable to his team as Shane Watson is to Australia.

High point
The series against Sri Lanka was approached with trepidation, but it ended up being the most remarkable success of the year. Most of the traditional departments came good as Pakistan knocked over an opponent placed above them in the ICC rankings. Fielding was the only real letdown; had some critical catches been held in the opening match in Abu Dhabi, the margin of victory in the Tests could easily have been 2-0 instead of 1-0.

Another high point - no less enjoyable and possibly of greater significance - came off the field, when Ijaz Butt's damaging tenure as PCB chief finally came to an end. His replacement, Zaka Ashraf, has so far displayed a settled and professional approach, outlining a set of key strategic objectives, showing willingness to back his players and reward performance, and appearing keen to heed the advice of noted ex-cricketers. Compared with the ruinous Butt, he seems a godsend.

Low point
You would think that losing to India in a World Cup semi-final would top everybody's list of disappointments, but strangely it doesn't. Coming soon after the spot-fixing upheaval, and against an Indian juggernaut brimming with momentum, Pakistan's semi-final defeat was received with a kind of proud resignation mixed with relief.

Instead, the regret of the year was fluffing the opportunity to secure a maiden Test series win in West Indies - something Pakistan have come tantalisingly close to on previous tours though never quite managed. Set a relatively modest fourth-innings target of 219 in the opening game, Pakistan collapsed to the pace of Ravi Rampaul and the seam movement of Darren Sammy. With only two Tests to play, the possibility of an inaugural series triumph was eliminated.

Still, this was a year with few low moments for Pakistan. Even the spectacle of convicted spot-fixers being carted away to prison did not resonate with the shame and humiliation that was felt last year. If anything, it felt like a cleansing that brought closure.

What 2012 holds
Pakistan are a happy and motivated bunch, putting in an honest effort and clicking well. Yet two loose ends stand out as one looks ahead to 2012.

There were a number of impressive batting performances this year, including two double-centuries, but batting inconsistency continues to be a problem. Hafeez has secured himself as one half of the opening pair, but his limited-overs partner is still rotational. In Tests, Taufeeq Umar excelled as an opener with three tons and three fifties, but he was dismissed in nearly half his innings for single digits. After ten fifties, one-down batsman Azhar Ali finally got a Test hundred, but it is the senior duo of Younis and Misbah who are carrying the middle order. And while Umar Akmal and Asad Shafiq are technically adept, they haven't yet acquired the habit of scoring big.

Another loose end is the position of the coach, still occupied by Mohsin Khan in an interim capacity. Pakistan have never been a team for too much method or formality, and with a mature captain like Misbah and accomplished senior players like Afridi and Younis in the side, a supportive older-brother figure like Mohsin may be all that is needed. There is talk of his ego issues, but the core need is to provide a mentoring presence that ensures harmony and chemistry among the boys, on which Mohsin is clearly delivering. There is a feeling in some circles for a foreign coach - Australian Dav Whatmore is the front-runner - but why try to fix something that shows with each passing day it's not broken?

The larger question is: will 2011 prove to be the year when Pakistan cricket finally caught a break? Ever since the Oval forfeit of 2006, the team has been living a nightmare, as each passing year has brought something previously considered unthinkable. The spot-fixing catharsis might have finally bookended this dark chapter.

Stern challenges lie ahead, starting with a full series against top-ranked England in January. There is even the possibility of hosting international cricket on home soil, for which Bangladesh have given provisional consent. It did not attract much notice outside Pakistan, but in fact the terrorists behind the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan team were also caught and killed this year. The bad guys are losing. That is a hopeful sign.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by GreenTeam-Elite on (December 28, 2011, 17:13 GMT)

Very well Green Shirts. Finally Pakistani Players have got their winning track in 2011 and they have shown the world that still they can play Good fighting cricket. Hope 2012 will be same as 2011 for Pakistani Cricket. Many Big series are coming ahead in 2012 like England Series, Asia Cup, Australia Series, Sri Lanka Series, Champions trophy & T20 World Cup. Pakistani Nation will only want Good Fighting Cricket frome players whether you win or lose!!! I Think Pakistani Team also got Good Combination in Test, ODI & T20 in 2011.

Posted by Aragorn_11 on (December 28, 2011, 16:42 GMT)

I think they have turned a massive corner as a team and as a unit...with Imran Khan making big moves in the political world...there's definitely a feeling of a feel good atmosphere in Pakistan, as a nation, not just a team, that we are ready for big change, we can stand toe to toe with any country in the world, it's this instilled belief which will benefit us, 2012 with England ("home"), Asia Cup and South Africa (away) should reaffirm Pakistan's position as a big gun of world cricket again...I cant believe people think beating NZ in NZ and Sri Lanka in Subcontinent conditions was EASY....just look at what both teams have done recently against Australia and South Africa (currently) respectively! Pakistan have done really well to beat both of them in those conditions...personally I think Sri Lanka in the UAE are much more dangerous then England in the UAE, so that series should be fine for Pakistan! Jeevay Jeevay Pakistan...Pakistan Zindabad!

Posted by   on (December 28, 2011, 15:30 GMT)

Good to see Pakistan coming into light. We should really appreciate them for turning up such performances in this year. Agreed that they played against weaker opponents, but all that matters is that they are back to their winning ways. However, it takes tremendous amount of courage and mettle to reach the spot they are in now after all the mis-haps in the last 3 years. All they need now is consistency. All the best Pakistan.

Posted by krishna_cricketfan on (December 28, 2011, 15:29 GMT)

Good to see Pakistan playing more and doing well. Pakistan always had a very good bowling attack. You seem to be having a assembly line of fast bowlers. If fielding/catching is improved definitely the WIN column will increase. If other teams had bowlers like yours, they would be in No 1 in test matches for a long time. Although batting is still weak, if you can extract 100% advantage from your strength, will it not be great?

Posted by   on (December 28, 2011, 11:25 GMT)

this may be the beginning of a new era of Pakistan cricket. lets hope for the best in up coming series against the best test team

Posted by GRAMMY_SACHIN on (December 28, 2011, 11:20 GMT)

Well done Pakistan Team. I think the influence of Misbah, Younis and to some extent Moshin & Afridi is showig very well on their performances. PAK showed their quality especially against a top side like SL. Way to go guys. You are going to rock ENG and that will be the confirmation that PAK team is maturing well. Good luck to PAK team for a great series against ENG and a greater 2012. We want PAK team to be at its best for making the ICC rankings really interesting with AUS, IND, SA, SL along with PAK challenging ENG. Good luck

Posted by   on (December 27, 2011, 22:39 GMT)

Pakistan have achieved what they should have planned before 2011 but biggest test lay ahead against England. If they are able to test and even draw against England in Test, they would think it as a win. Hoping for a good contest.

Posted by Avidcricketlover on (December 27, 2011, 18:46 GMT)

Praise Misbah for all these. He is doing the job. He is not at fore front of things. He is defensive but then calm headed. No controversies and no problems this year. He took up when no one else wanted to and mind you, there was infighting.Now the success has come even though no challenging tours yet but no controversies !. Pakistan. Respect. Atlast I see Integrity in the team ! But find someone soon who will fit in like Younis khan or a Misbah in character ! ---- Indian !

Posted by   on (December 27, 2011, 18:22 GMT)

@CricIndia208 typical uneducated response from a glory hunter who only sings when they are winning. mate the article is about on and off the field the greater changes being off the field i.e no contrevercies and changes in coaching and pcb. the return of senior players. i can see your a half glass empty type of guy but in my eyes no one beat pakistan in 2011...not SA, SL, WI or BD... unfortunately fans like you give your fellow supporters a bad name. as other fans are on here realising the changes! please publish

Posted by Fazal123 on (December 27, 2011, 15:08 GMT)

It will be an amazing achievement for pakistan cricket if Mr. Shafqat can write a similar article next year, playing against England, Australia and South Africa.

Posted by   on (December 27, 2011, 13:16 GMT)

Really nice article showing that Pakistan Cricket is headed towards the light again ... As a cricket fan I can only rejoice and as a neighbour in South India, I can only hope that all turns out well in 2012

Posted by Stark62 on (December 27, 2011, 12:02 GMT)

If there wasn't so much politics in Pak cricket then, we would have already seen Sadaf Hussain in the playing 11. His better than Junaid and can swing the ball both ways like Amir but just a bit behind in terms of thinking and planning like Amir was.

Posted by   on (December 27, 2011, 11:43 GMT)

A very good article overall...i hope to see Amir back in Pakistan squad...and InshAllah we will going to rock the world cricket now its Pakistan's turn to top the rankings...:)

Posted by sharkwolf on (December 27, 2011, 11:42 GMT)

Kindly note that Amir is far skilled than Junaid...

Posted by swingstowin on (December 27, 2011, 10:32 GMT)

'the bad guys are losing' IA one day our country will be cleared from all the bad guys!! A great article! And thanks for all the positive comments from India...really appreciate it..Good Luck TEAM PAKISTAN FOR 2012

Posted by CricIndia208 on (December 27, 2011, 10:20 GMT)

What did pakistan do this year apart from beating the minnows? You couldn't even beat WI.

Posted by smalishah84 on (December 27, 2011, 9:49 GMT)

WEll done Pakistan. Congratulations Misbah and team. Take a bow :)

Posted by   on (December 27, 2011, 9:20 GMT)

opener for ODI their is a guy called Umair Khan from Islamabad left hand batsman he can be good for ODI's even his stats shows aswell...anyway nice Artical Saad great job keep it uo brother

Posted by   on (December 27, 2011, 8:42 GMT)

comeback of wahab riaz in test series against england will surely give strength and good options to pakistan team and btw well written article like it ;)

Posted by subbuamdavadi on (December 27, 2011, 7:36 GMT)

I was deeply disappointed to not be able to watch the Pakistan-Bangladesh series. Coming from India, allow me to admit, that it is a pleasure watching the Pakistan team play. I think 2012 belongs to Pakistan. If only Pakistan could play India in a full series of 5 test matches and 5 ODI's!!

Posted by satish619chandar on (December 27, 2011, 7:26 GMT)

Good article.. Pakistan now looks a team which focuses only on cricket.. Good they can play to their full potential and win more matches.. I always believed Pakistan when playing full potential can beat ANY team.. Their bowling line up is too good..

Posted by cricket4shafiq on (December 27, 2011, 6:19 GMT)

Overall, an excellent article. We must need a fast bowling All-rounder too, to beat England. I feel Hammad Azam must come at number 6 to make it even more stable side. WK Sarfraz should be preferred over Adnan. This is strange how can you forget the Hatrick man, Aleem dar and the improving Asad Rauf.

Posted by   on (December 27, 2011, 6:16 GMT)

the year has ended already.................

Posted by gdalvi on (December 27, 2011, 5:49 GMT)

Excellent Article Saad! Even as an Indian, I think the year 2011 truly belonged to Pak for their sheer comeback team performance. I would say the getting the top position in their group in WC was by itself a crowning achievement, given they had top ODI ranked Aus in their group. They really played well until they ran into India and even there they gave a real tough fight. Had it not been for those dropped catches, Pak may have even won - you never know. Unlike Pak, Ind/Eng/SA/Aus - they were fielding a well settled team and were already among the top ranks, so they doing well is actually expected. Getting rid of cheater Salman Butt and Asif did a whole lot of good, though Amir was unfortunate calamity. I think next to discarded forev er should be Shoaib Mallik and K. Akmal, for the high level of divisiveness and discord they bring in the team. The are really not that good anyway. Great job Pak and good luck for Eng series. Hopefully you will avenge India.

Posted by Vindaliew on (December 27, 2011, 5:21 GMT)

It's been a great year for Pakistan cricket, and an even greater year for its fans. Of all the teams in the bottom half of the table, Pakistan is the only one which is there not due to lack of ability, but through self-destruction. This has been a year of revival, and hopefully this can continue to push their way to the top and carve a place in history as one of the best Test sides Pakistan have had. And hopefully in a few years Amir will return stronger, wiser and forgiven, and have a great career completely free from the burden of guilt.

Posted by   on (December 27, 2011, 4:39 GMT)

If the PCB plays it part well, Pakistan is certain to ascend in 2012 with the perfect blend of experience and youth. Misbah should be shown faith & should continue as a Captain, regardless of minor and/or few defeats. Pakistan has a great year to come & that would do good for the game of sports for sure!

Posted by   on (December 27, 2011, 3:10 GMT)

nicely written article, Did not miss a single mentionalbe thing, Great

Posted by avmd on (December 27, 2011, 2:35 GMT)

They have to find an understudy to Misbah ASAP. Whether its Hafeez or Azhar, or anoyone else. At this age, if Misbah takes a dip in his form, it won't be easy to come back and with that team performance and confidence will suffer. Batting is another area to keep an eye on, if not of a concern. There are not too many Umar Akmals waiting in domestic cricket, but selectors have to unearth some talent. There is abundance talent in fast bowling but someone good enough to replace Razaq has to be found. I don;t think Hammad is good enough. Perhaps Anwar Ali of PIA, with some improvement in his batting might be the answer

Posted by   on (December 27, 2011, 2:24 GMT)

Indeed a rising star of Pakistan.. I hope he will perform much better in the upcoming series against NO.1 test cricket team England..

Posted by LillianThomson on (December 27, 2011, 2:06 GMT)

The real challenge is the tour of South Africa in exactly one year: it may be the chance to secure a Top Four position in case a World Test Championship materialises before 2017. Journeymen like Cheema will not cut it, Gul and Junaid will need an amnestied Mohammed Amir to lead the attack. And for that to happen, the PCB will need to show vision and leadership by getting Amir to front a war against corruption after his imminent release from jail. In addition, a reliable wicketkeeper is still needed, and probably for overseas a spinning all-rounder, which ought to mean a return to Tests for Afridi. A competitive team for the Boxing Day Test next year in SA would be 1) Hafeez 2) Taufeeq 3) Azhar 4) Younis 5) Umar A 6) Misbah 7) Zulqarnain 8) Amir 9) Gul 10) Junaid 11) Ajmal. Also, just as Wasim's retirement removed Saqlain's rough, did noone notice that without Junaid recently Ajmal lost his bite?

Posted by Rakim on (December 27, 2011, 2:05 GMT)

Nicely summarized article. Misbah-ul-Haq has been the key in Pak's recovery. I really hope foreign teams visit Pakistan. Pak should play aggressive cricket against England.

Posted by Joji_ on (December 27, 2011, 2:02 GMT)

Very well said Mr. Shafqat!! Took this article 5 years in the making !!

Posted by   on (December 27, 2011, 1:31 GMT)

A very well balanced article. The main concern apart from coach is wicket keeper and lower order performance. Adnan Akmal looked compose behind stumps but his batting has left a lot to be desired especially if you compare how modern wicket keepers are contributing with that; with lower order also not capable of wagging; that is a concern to me.

Posted by   on (December 27, 2011, 1:03 GMT)

Very well written as a true cricket fan and die hard Pakistan supporter I must say this year was the best of all since Inzi retired. We need a good oppner for our one day team and we need to find someone who can replace the likes of Afirdi and Razzqa . Technically speaking we need a new star a new crowed puller in our team .

Posted by Nish8738 on (December 27, 2011, 1:02 GMT)

good for you pakistan!!! if they had beaten india in the world cup that would have been the greatest year for them.

Posted by   on (December 27, 2011, 0:57 GMT)

I am very happy and proud to see the revival of Pakistani side. I am convinced that Eng will have to face a very tough challenge in UAE to beat Pakistan. Ajmal, Hafeez, and Rehman with Wahab, Gul, Cheema and Junaid ... too much to choose from the bowling bench strength. Batting looks a little soft, but hopefully O.Akmal will deliver. England should loose that series :))).

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