An electric instability

When they won it was magnificent, when they lost it made for dynamite drama. In short, just another year in Pakistan cricket
Osman Samiuddin December 31, 2013

Mohammad Irfan boosted Pakistan at various stages of 2013, a year when he came of age © Getty Images

An ODI series win over India; clean-swept in South Africa; a tie with Ireland; a series win in the West Indies; wiped out at the Champions Trophy; an ODI and Test loss to Zimbabwe; a Test win against South Africa; an ODI caning against South Africa; a historic ODI triumph in South Africa; is there anything to be gained, let alone any sanity to be retained, from even trying to assess Pakistan this year?

The contrast between these results carries a similar rhythm to the batting tempo of the man who has helmed them. The staccato style of Misbah-ul-Haq's batting - the long, barren desert of dot balls giving way to lush, green plots of big boundaries - best captured the nature of Pakistan's wanderings this year (though if the side mirrored his productivity it might work better all round).

One way to look at it is as a source of reassurance; Pakistan's continuing but electric instability on the field is a form of stability in itself. There remains that unmatched, overwhelming magnificence when they win in situations where they are not expected to. Likewise when they lose, to Zimbabwe for example, the sense of doom and disaster makes for dynamite drama.

It is an important point, because this year in particular the jibes about Misbah draining or misplacing the soul of Pakistan - an overly mythologised sense of flair and attack - have been particularly barbed. It is not true: by virtue of their results and to the observer, Pakistan are still more dance floor than library.

Of course they haven't built on the gains of 2011 and 2012, like normal sides might expect to have done. Were they ever going to? Pakistan don't transition. They don't build. They simply appear, readymade, to amaze or appall.

It would be tempting to suggest that proceedings off the field have hampered the team. But it would be wrong, for when has that ever stopped or helped them?

This year they have not been helped by an uneven schedule. Long gaps between Test series have hurt them, and 24 international matches against South Africa have narrowed the scope of their achievements (or otherwise), though ideally they may help battle-harden them.

It would be tempting to suggest that proceedings off the field have hampered the team. But it would be wrong, for when has that ever stopped or helped them? It is worth noting the current shake-up of the administrative order, though. This year's shenanigans feel a little more serious than the usual. If it was only as simple as Zaka Ashraf being ousted and Najam Sethi coming in as chairman, it would be a blessing. But the switching of the board patron from a theoretically apolitical president to an intrinsically partisan prime minister, the imposition of another ad-hoc committee, and an impending and potentially seminal court judgment, these all feel, ominously, like they could have deeper, longer-term ramifications.

High point
A few options to consider. Any series win over India, in a shortened ODI series or a longer one, is a highlight. A first-ever ODI series triumph in South Africa - the first by any side from the subcontinent - carried substantial historic weight. An ODI series win against Sri Lanka to end the year meant that Pakistan had won, in total, seven bilateral ODI series this year, which is impressive and a record for them. But it is the Test win against South Africa in Abu Dhabi that stands out. Barely a month before, they had lost a Test to Zimbabwe; South Africa are easily the world's best Test side and had beaten Pakistan with some ease at home earlier in the season. To overturn them, and convincingly, was some result, and confirmation that the intrinsic, undefinable soul of Pakistan's side remained intact.

Low point
Also a few options to choose from. To not win against Ireland, no matter that they are the strongest Associate side, was poor. The Champions Trophy was abysmal, more so because of the much-tried, much-failed batting personnel Pakistan took with them. The whitewash in South Africa was predictable, though still abysmal. The legal wrangle they are currently in is no pretty sight either. But trumping them all was the tour to Zimbabwe. Admittedly it was a no-win tour: had they won all before them nobody would have batted an eyelid. But to lose an ODI and then a Test as well was ridiculous. It was heartening for Zimbabwe, of course, and neutrals generally, but for Pakistan a true low.

Pakistan players celebrate after their one-run win, South Africa v Pakistan, 2nd ODI, Port Elizabeth, November 27, 2013
The first team from the subcontinent to win a series in South Africa © Associated Press

New(ish) kid on the block
Sohaib Maqsood and Sharjeel Khan have both looked accomplished. Bilawal Bhatti has something about him worth keeping tabs on. But they've all paled in the considerable shadow of Mohammad Irfan this year. Sure, Irfan isn't new as such; he played two ODIs in 2010 and has hovered in the national consciousness since. But this year he was a different bowler altogether from the one who first appeared in England. He was built stronger, came off a better-coordinated run-up and action, and was able to sustain pace. And he was infinitely wiser, as seen in the fuller lengths he was hitting, mixing them with the permanent threat of his naturally steep bounce. Right through the year, from his bullying of India through to his calculated attacks on South Africa's top order in the UAE, Irfan has been Pakistan's most dangerous paceman. His hip injury at the end is warning enough that his unique frame still has to be handled well, but 52 international wickets are proof of an equally unique diamond.

What 2014 holds
A new coach, for a start. Dav Whatmore's contract will not be extended and he leaves at the end of February, a curiously low-key two-year tenure to show for it. Again the schedule is light; an Asia Cup, the World Twenty20 and then possible winter assignments against Australia and New Zealand.

It is also the year before a 50-over World Cup and decisions will have to be made about Misbah. He is in no danger right now, given his form and the backing of Najam Sethi. But even a little dip, at his age, will destabilise matters hugely. Ideally some forward planning to look for a new captain would be nice, but who are we kidding?

Posted by   on (January 5, 2014, 14:26 GMT)

I have always been a critic of Misbah's technique but 2013 has proved me wrong though there were some shortcomings in batting, young players are making in roots likes of sharjeel and irfan should now be doing nets on daily basis. Misbah should keep at least till the worldcup. As akram and shoaib were emphasising on more net practice it should be the next approach of our young players. Ahmad shahzad is still young and can be the next captain for sure. Its going good for us till date..Best of luck Team pakistan.

Posted by   on (January 3, 2014, 8:02 GMT)

As always a very well crafted account. Truly Pakistan has overturned their situation into a blessing in disguise. There should be no question regarding Misbahz captaincy, hes the anchor of the Pak ship and should be continued till it reaches the world cup sea shore!...Sometimes bi wonder if we also need misbah in T20s!!...

Posted by class9ryan on (January 2, 2014, 4:19 GMT)

If you ask what they gained from 2013 it has to be Mohammad Irfan - he really has the core to become one of the leading bowlers in the world, they need to create a good mantle around him. With Umar Gul they boast of having a real good pace spearhead. Junaid looks a very able bowler and I hope their batsmen get a bit more consistent. All I sum up is if batsmen fire, Pakistan welcome to top 4 in all forms of the game or else same story again.

Posted by Usman22003 on (January 1, 2014, 18:03 GMT)

Great article. I love your comment about Pakistan not rebuilding but rather coming out of the blue and amazing the World.

Posted by   on (December 31, 2013, 22:16 GMT)

Next Captain should be Ahmed Shehzad for 2015 WC. Sharjeel Khan needs to sort out his technique . Sohaib Maqsood should learn to bat in situations. Bilawal will be wipe out soon like other players. Umer Akmal should be given chance in test to learn batting. We badly need a real pacer right hand ,there are many lefties.

Posted by   on (December 31, 2013, 21:58 GMT)

The administrative farce aside I feel Pakistan cricket made some progress this year. It was nice to see the board back Misbah and not give into popular opinion as they have done in the past. Belief in Misbah paid dividend as Pakistan won2 series right after that. I was also good to see the board handle the Dav Whatmore issue with a quite dignity. I don't want to paint a picture that makes it seem as if everything is rosy in Pakistan cricket because its not but for once it seems as if we are headed in the right direction. yes there were collapses a galore and an embarassing loss to defiant and bouyant Zimbabwe but the heartning thing to see was how the team and board reacted to those situations. Time and now teams will go have embarrasing loses but its how they come back from it and for once I can say PCB, Misbah and the team responded in a positive manner. Now if the Courts can go back to implementing laws and get out of cricket we can have another constructive year in 2014.

Posted by   on (December 31, 2013, 21:00 GMT)

Mohsin Khan for batting coach and Waqar Younis for Bowling coach

Posted by   on (December 31, 2013, 20:26 GMT)

You have surpassed yourself Osman! Loved the expression!

Posted by   on (December 31, 2013, 18:07 GMT)

This isn't a good article. It's an absolutely great one. As pleasing to read as it was to watch Saeed Anwar drive. If only we had managment of the calibre of this writer, Pakistan cricket would be at another level. For now, we only hope to see another Saeed Anwar in our lifetime open for Pakistan.

Posted by   on (December 31, 2013, 17:50 GMT)

It is true that we had an up and down ride in 2013 but for some reason, I sense the next two years to be great for team Pakistan. The reason I sense this is because of the fact that players are finally being selected on Merit.

Here are some positives to look forward to in 2014-2015:

Batting:

- Sharjeel, Shoaib and Shahzad are the future of limited overs cricket for Pakistan.

- Sami Aslam is another excellent opener in the making. He just scored three centuries and two fifties in his last eight innings for under 19.

- There are a couple of other very talented batsmen in domestic cricket.

Fast Bowling:

- Junaid, Irfan, Gul, Amir (once he returns) and Rahat Ali are world class pacers.

- There is a diamond called Sadaf Hussain about to be unveiled in 2014. Wait for him.

Spinners:

- Saeed Ajmal, Rehman and Babar got 2-3 more years.

- Raza Hasan along with two other fine spinners are waiting in line.

All Rounders:

- Bilawal and Anwar Ali are good prospects.

Thanks

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