An electric instability
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?