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Analysis

Is Test cricket having its Pakball moment?

It's like that other thing but not entirely, and it may only last until its first failure, but it's making an eminently watchable team even more watchable

Saud Shakeel scored 30 off 38 deliveries in the chase, Sri Lanka vs Pakistan, 1st Test, Galle, 5th day, July 20, 2023

Saud Shakeel had a Test match to remember  •  AFP/Getty Images

Don't say it.
It's not a fair comparison.
We don't even know if Pakistan properly like it yet.
There's been a directive from the top to embrace a new style of batting, and it's easy to wonder if this thing is just like a knockoff version of that other thing.
You know what that is.
If you've followed cricket over the last few months, you have to know. You won't have had any choice but to have to know.
The thing that's happening in England right now. Not the 143-year-old thing. The buzzword. (We're refusing to make the easy pun on bUzzword.)
Over there, they're playing the registered, trademarked, official version of it. All hard-driving, inside-outing, hoicks-to-legging, reverse-lapping fun. No one could possibly suggest it's not been amazing to watch. At least in the lifetime of your standard Millennial, this is as glorious a gear as England's Test cricket has ever found.
And now, Pakistan have announced, both with bat in hand, and with microphones in front of them, that the way they played in Galle, until the tail came in to bat at least, is the way they are going to play Test cricket. They've won a Test playing that way. This is their first victory in seven games.
So they've got to be following in someone's footsteps, right? Getting in early on a new era. The centre of a worldwide Test revolution.
Let's look at some evidence.
In the first 87 overs of their first innings at Galle, Pakistan travelled at a run rate of 4.34, which is a number that you suspect passes every grade. And then, in the last 33.2 overs of their innings, they scored at 1.92.
What happened?
Saud Shakeel, who made 208 of Pakistan's 461 in the first innings, just decided that taking it easy was the thing to do when the tail was in his company. He had sped to 100 off 129, but when the bowlers came in, he took the whole thing down several notches. Aggression is great, but let's not get crazy. His second hundred took 223 deliveries.
After day two, when Pakistan had first showcased this fresh, aggressive style, Shan Masood, who hit 39 off 30 in the first innings, said this:
"We're living in a day and age when there's thrill-seeking batsmen going after bowlers, scoring runs and showing off their skills. Yes, we'd like to play a brand of cricket that's attractive, but we'd like to play a brand of cricket that helps us win games."
It's tempting to suggest that Pakistan are taking a leaf out of someone else's book, but even just a few seconds of thought will lead you to the conclusion that... nah, that ain't it.
Pakistan cricket has never not been supremely watchable. Because it is sometimes sublime - yes. Such as in portions of Shakeel's innings in Galle.
But also, and maybe mainly, because it is deeply hilarious and hilariously unstable, such as when they lost six wickets chasing 131 at a venue at which they chased 342 last year.
Their magnetism is not, has never been, should never have to be, dependent on anything so prosaic as the mean number of runs scored per over bowled within an innings.
Pakistan had many successes in this Test. Quicks Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah bowled beautifully with the new ball on the first day, and came back to deliver nice reverse-swinging spells. The spinners took 12 wickets between them at an average of 26.06. The close catchers were more black holes than fielders, sucking up the ball anytime it passed near their vicinity.
How long they will stick to this plan of attack, no one knows. On the batting front, they tried to race, and they kind of did, in their own endearing way - Shakeel especially.
But in general, Pakistan cricket is not as wedded to its pronouncements as others tend to be. The strong suspicion is this strategy will last as long as the team feels it is successful using it. If there is even a momentary weakness, there may be trouble for those who devised it.
And maybe that is the proper way teams should be - constantly responding to the most recent data point, not because it makes them better, but because it makes it more fun for us to watch them. Should that not be the most important contention?
If being supremely bewitching is the aim, then Pakistan have had it for as long as Pakistan have been around. But right now, they're batting more aggressively because they think they hadn't done that often enough.
On its first whirl, the strategy has worked.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf