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 aks1987 on (December 31, 2013, 2:53 GMT)

Great insight into Pakistan cricket as usual by Osman Samiuddin.

Posted by   on (December 31, 2013, 3:39 GMT)

i was wishing that some how misbah quits ODI cricket because he is boring enough but in this year he won against india and also won against SA and Sri Lanka and WI.

I mean in last two months Misbah has improved a lot by sacrificing his #4 position to Shoaib maqsood through which we are able to score big runs in ODI and won lot of matches.

Misbah with this attitude is perfect candidate for WC 2015 captaincy.

Posted by heathrf1974 on (December 31, 2013, 4:18 GMT)

I always enjoy watching Pakistan play because you never know what you're going to get.

Posted by Desihungama on (December 31, 2013, 4:43 GMT)

Well, First of all if there is consistency in our winning ways that means there is something wrong at the top. We always have to showcase to the world our own brand of cricket which reeks of unpredictability. With this inconsistency, you may win an odd Odi series but you can never win a tournament where you need to win 3-4 straight games to be able to raise the trophy. They need to now settle with playing 12, Test & Odi. Regarding Irfan, Dale Steyn may be the best fast bowler but every single batsman is afraid to face Irfan. I am afraid he may be a done deal. I wish and hope am wrong. For a 7'1, you can come back from hip injury to play soccer with teammates a day before the game but you cannot go out and be the same bowler considering injury on your mind in addition to brittle body. They played him continuously 5 straight ODi's and result is all there to see. If Pak sticks to same core of players I can see them making to WC2015 semis.

Posted by   on (December 31, 2013, 7:16 GMT)

WELL About SA tour especially test matche, I was a bit disappointed. Overall I'm OKAY with this year performance. Junaid came of his age taking 55 W @ 22 a piece and Ever Green Ajmal 53 was leader. batting it still a big bigh concern for us. Sohaib is very good find. Hope is keep his head down. And Irfan is adding that X-factor to the bowling. I hope we get more and more test matches in 2014. All the best team Pakistan. <3

Posted by   on (December 31, 2013, 8:47 GMT)

Its very injustice with Saeed Ajmal to not having a single word for him. I am very disappointed and tried to again and again to find a point for him in whole article. The recent victories of Pakistan are impossible without him............

Posted by kamran.afzal on (December 31, 2013, 9:04 GMT)

It has been a decent year. After the longest time, we have a unit that is looking more and more settled with time. Two very fine pacers in Junaid and Irfan, not to mention the bench strength in Gul et al; two of the finest spinners in Ajmal and Rehman, with enough promise for limited overs shown by Babar and Raza; two promising batting talents in Shehzad and Maqsood (not that Pakistan hasn't had promise earlier, but for once the promise is backed by decent performance); two "mercurial" all rounders in Hafeez and Afridi, with Bhatti showing promise; a wicket keeper who I still insist is the most talented batsman in the team; and a captain who is trying to hold it all together. Never been a fan of Misbah the captain; but his utility as a batsmen - with the brand of cricket he plays - cannot be understated in this lineup.

I think it's time the selectors let this unit settle for a year to ensure that Pakistan is well prepared for WC 2015.

Posted by   on (December 31, 2013, 9:23 GMT)

many positives . Winning the series against India, WI, SL ( significant because this was won more because of their batting. Which is rare ).

the high point was winning the series vs SA in SA. 1st sub continent team to do.

Rising players: agreed about Irfan. He will be good for Pak in coming years. Maqsood is a good find. Sharjeel looked ok for a bit but still question marks on him.

finally with bhatti & anwar, we have found 2 possible all rounders. Too early to judge but Anwar look good prospect. bhatti can be good as well with some improvements. & with these, we have move forward from Malik & Razak

Fading Player: i think Umar Akmal's is slowly vanishing with maqsood in. To me its not how many runs he scores, its how he gets out/play shots. many say he bats too low. agreed but even at 6 you get chance to win matches for Pak. Keeping is taking too much energy off him.

And Misbah top scorer with hafeez at 2nd in odis & Ajmal top odi wicket taker with Junaid at 2nd was a rare sight

Posted by   on (December 31, 2013, 9:24 GMT)

It was a mixed year for Pak cricket. many positives, many disappointments and many low points. usual year in office for Pakistan. for me disappointments were:

3rd Odi vs India: after winning the series, they could have achieved a rare white wash over no 1 odi team. but failed badly in 3rd odi to chase 160 odd.

2nd test vs SA in SA: After losing 1st test badly, they were on top in 2nd with a turning wicket. But familiar batting collapse left them to defend only 170 odd & SA won by 4 wickets. It was a great chance missed to win a test in SA & avoid white wash.

Odi series vs SA in UAE: they had their moments in this series. Could have won 2 more games but poor batting throughout the series left them at 1-4 thrashing and that in UAE where Pak was suppose to do well.

Lowest Points to me: CT. lost all matches and came last in 8 team event is the lowest.Never expected this. then losing to ZIM. they avoided the defeat in 1st but lost 2nd. Failure of batting throughout the year

Posted by   on (December 31, 2013, 10:12 GMT)

For me the most possitive impact from 2013 is transforming and building a team.From where we have find a good balance of players like Muhammad Irfan,Zulfiqar Babar,Sohaib Maqsood,Sharjeel Khan,Bilawal Bhatti,Anwar Ali,etc. After 2010 I certainly would say there is a good competition within a team for the permanent place otherwise we were looking the likes of Shoaib Malik,Kamran Akmal,Mohammad Sami,Imran Farhat,etc... So during transforming a game or 2 losses in a series in Tournament doesnot make a huge difference. Look at the Champions Trophy where we relied on Shoaib Malik,Imran Farhat,Abdul Razzak,Kamran Akmal,etc....the result was worst.....So indulging new players giving us the new talent,Group of new Team with new blood,in that phase we beat SA in SA,Sri Lanka in UAE... So I would say overall it is a good year with Good direction.

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