Unbeaten streaks and unexpected triumphs - Pakistan's high points from 2009 to 2019

It's been a rollercoaster of a decade for the side where the highs have truly been exhilarating

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
On March 3, 2009, a terror attack on the visiting Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore meant Pakistan cricket lost the most basic of privileges - playing international games in front of home crowds - for the foreseeable future. World Cup-hosting rights were taken away, and, in effect, they were out on the street looking for a place to host international teams.
The decade-and-a-bit since could well have been an inexorable downward slide. It has, instead, been a rollercoaster. Pakistan have, in this time, become well-acquainted with the sickening drops, but the highs have truly been exhilarating. Now, as Test cricket returns home, we look at some of their high points over these ten years.
Rarely has a player made a home away from home as well as the legspinner in the UAE. Four years after he took seven wickets on debut against Australia in Dubai, Yasir Shah stormed to 200 in just his 33rd Test match, breaking Australian legspinner Clarrie Grimmett's 82-year-old record for being the quickest to that number in Tests. His numbers in the UAE place him comfortably among legspin royalty: 116 wickets in 17 Tests at an average of 24.56. Never once has he taken fewer than four wickets in a Test there, and his heroics have run like a thread through most of Pakistan's high points.
This one is often overlooked, oddly, given Pakistan's general pre-occupation with getting one over India. MS Dhoni's men had, around a year ago, lifted the World Cup on home soil, beating Pakistan along the way. Nine of those in the India squad were also at the World Cup. Pakistan looked underwhelming on paper, but went on to seal the series at the earliest opportunity with a thumping 85-run win in Kolkata in the second ODI. It had been preceded by six-wicket win in Chennai, where India were reduced to 29 for 5 in the first powerplay. Nasir Jamshed was the unlikely Player of the Series, scoring consecutive hundreds, and only a late collapse in the final ODI denied Misbah-ul-Haq's men a whitewash. It is one of just three ODI series India have lost at home this decade.
While the West Indies star has faded consistently for 25 years, a Test series win for Pakistan in the Caribbean had proven elusive. There was the one-wicket win for West Indies in Antigua where Jimmy Adams - and some seriously controversial umpiring - deprived Moin Khan's Pakistan of history. The teams would split a pair of two-match Test series in 2005 and 2011, and when Pakistan toured the Caribbean again in 2017, they were on a run of six consecutive Test defeats.
The first two Tests were shared before the showdown in Dominica, where a century from Azhar Ali and wickets for Mohammad Abbas and Yasir looked to have cut off all means of escape for the hosts.
But Roston Chase put on levels of resistance that bordered on the epic, and with Shannon Gabriel having clung on alongside him, West Indies were seven balls from survival. That is when the moment got to Gabriel, who, off the last ball he needed to see off, swept Yasir wildly against the turn, only to drag the ball on to his off stump, gifting Pakistan a win West Indies had worked so hard to deny them.
Only once before in Pakistan's history had they chased over 300 in the fourth innings to win a Test match, but they managed it twice in 18 months in 2014 and 2015. Both came against Sri Lanka, one in Sharjah and the other in Pallekele, and both were achieved with such consummate ease that losing didn't even appear on the horizon. In Sharjah, they were battling the clock rather than Sri Lanka, set what seemed an improbable 302 on the final day with less than two sessions left. Logic suggested that the Sri Lankan spinners had the best chance of forcing a result, but with Pakistan needing a win to keep their unbeaten series record in the UAE alive, they pushed hard. A hundred from Azhar, aided by nearly run-a-ball contributions from Misbah and Sarfaraz Ahmed, saw Pakistan steal a remarkable win with nine balls to spare.
They repeated the feat 18 months later in Pallekele, when set an even steeper 377 for victory. The ease with which they ran that down was stunning, with centuries from Shan Masood and Younis Khan setting it up. There was even time to finish with a flourish, as Misbah lofted Jehan Mubarak over long-on with the scores tied, sealing one of the more remarkable series wins during his reign as captain.
As far as legacy goes, this may be the most significant development in Pakistan cricket in recent years. T20 franchise leagues had quickly become totemic in the annual cricketing calendar, but even as they popped up in India, Australia, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Bangladesh, Pakistan hadn't cashed in until midway through the decade. That their players missed out on the riches of the IPL for political reasons only exacerbated the need for one, but when then PCB chairman Najam Sethi announced the Pakistan Super League, there was more scepticism than belief.
Initially slated to take place in Doha, the UAE would become its eventual hub. Over the past three years, a handful of PSL games have taken place in Pakistan, their success instrumental in the slow, steady return of international cricket to the country, with the upcoming Test series marking another hurdle the PSL has helped Pakistan cross. The entirety of the tournament is scheduled to be played in Pakistan next year, marking perhaps a tipping point for regular international cricket in the country.
It had been slightly over seven years since the last Test on Pakistan home soil - the truncated one against Sri Lanka in Lahore - when Pakistan came away from England in 2016 with a 2-2 series draw. Hugely laudable in itself - no visiting side had won more than two Tests in a series in England since Steve Waugh's Australia in 2001 - it also propelled Pakistan to the top of the Test rankings. And it was in England, six years after Pakistan had completed a tour of the country that ended with three of their players behind bars, Misbah would be tasked with picking up the pieces after that. Now, he was holding up the ICC Test mace.
A year after England overpowered Australia in an away Ashes series for the first time in 24 years, Andrew Strauss' men rocked up to the UAE ranked No. 1, in 2012. Heavily fancied against a Pakistan team still trying to accepting the UAE as home, they left out Monty Panesar on a track that turned square from day one. Saeed Ajmal ran them ragged, taking seven wickets in the first innings to set the tone for a series defined almost exclusively by his performances. After a ten-wicket win in Dubai for Pakistan, England looked set to level the series in Abu Dhabi, chasing just 145 for victory. But Pakistan's spinners were more than a match, blowing England away for 72, with Abdur Rehman and Ajmal taking nine wickets between them.
Even being skittled for 99 in the first innings in the final Test would do little to subdue Pakistan. A gritty 157 from Azhar set England a target of 324, and against a side suddenly bereft of confidence, Pakistan wrapped up the clean sweep with a comfortable 71-run victory.
Three months on from the horror in Lahore, Pakistan were by no means convincing for much of the T20 World Cup in 2009, losing decisively to England and Sri Lanka, but did just enough to scrape through to the semi-finals. There, their intoxicatingly capricious tendency to occasionally burst into life when the stakes are raised became fully apparent.
South Africa were swept aside by Shahid Afridi's manic all-round brilliance to set up a poignant final with Sri Lanka. A wicket-maiden to begin from 17-year-old Mohammad Amir kept Sri Lanka on the back foot for much of the innings, with Pakistan set 139 for the title. They always looked on course, and another half-century from Afridi took them home with eight balls to spare.
2. The seven-year reign
Whatever the hardships of playing home series away from home, the team began to make the UAE feel like home with impressive speed. Battle lines were drawn and territories immediately marked as Misbah's Pakistan came up with a formula that nearly always balanced the equations in the end. It might have been predictable, but it was never short of engrossing: put up a big total, and let the spinners do the rest.
They didn't lose a series the entire time Misbah led them in the UAE, giving Pakistan some of their most famous triumphs in the process. England played six matches here, lost five and didn't win once. Australia were walloped 2-0, Misbah notching up the joint-fastest Test match hundred in the process. Even South Africa, who were going through a nine-year unbeaten spell away from home, could only manage two drawn series in the UAE. Azhar and Asad Shafiq learned their trade here, forming alongside Misbah and Younis one of the most formidable middle orders in world cricket. Ajmal bolstered his numbers, and Yasir has taken up the mantle since.
There is Land of the Midnight Sun-scale daylight between this and everything else Pakistan have done this decade. Less than two years prior, Pakistan had just about kept their ranking high enough to qualify for the 2017 Champions Trophy as the lowest-ranked team. They played like it in a crushing defeat at India's hands in their opening group game, and were massively fortunate to sneak through to the semi-finals.
There, a switch was flicked on. England, the tournament favourites, were brushed aside by eight wickets in the semi-final to set up a grand showdown with India. Against all expectations, and indeed logic, Pakistan overpowered their more fancied opponents, winning by a whopping 180 runs. Where that performance came from no one, including those involved, knew. That it happened at all is what mattered.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000