Following their stunning series-winning triumph at Pallekele against Sri Lanka, Pakistan have risen to third in the ICC Test rankings
Well, that is Pakistan for you. They’ll collapse to 215 all out in the first innings and then chase up 377 with only three wickets down in the second innings. Nothing wrong with the system PCB will tell the coaches among many messages of optimism that have poured in from everywhere. The rumours of Pakistan Test cricket’s demise are well just that -- rumours.
It’s a huge win for Pakistan in so many ways. Firstly of course is the enormousness of the achievement; close to 400 that was achieved with not much trouble barring the hiccups at the beginning of the innings when Ahmed Shahzad and Azhar Ali fell with hardly anything on the scoreboard. Secondly one of the raw hands came up on deck to help steer the wheel and weather the storm. Indeed Shan Masood had till now not displayed the surety of a strong defense, other than in his debut knock of 70-odd against South Africa. But in Pallekele he was reborn. In both defense and attack he was confident and this hundred was blooded under tremendous pressure. This lad has done everyone proud.
In fact he has now threatened Ahmed Shahzad and Mohammad Hafeez for one of the opener’s slot when Pakistan next play a Test, against England in the UAE. Shahzad is the more threatened especially if Hafeez gets his action cleared. Firstly he was the opener who didn’t get too many runs on what were not difficult batting tracks. Second Hafeez has the captain’s ear if it comes to a casting vote in selection, especially if he continues bowling which is an extra asset for any captain.
Thirdly, it was Younis Khan once again with his record breaking feat. He has now become the batsman with the highest number of hundreds in the fourth innings of a Test. Considering he is ahead of Don Bradman and Viv Richards, two of the greatest batsmen of all time, this is a stunning achievement. Compared to our own, to be ahead of Hanif Mohammad, Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad and Inzamam-ul-Haq makes you understand just how tall an order that has been. He is now a few runs shy of becoming Pakistan’s highest scorer and being the big hearted man that Javed Miandad is the legendary batsman will be the happiest when Younis goes past his record.
And to think he was not scoring runs before that. Hardly 100 runs in the series before he went out to bat in the second innings on the penultimate day of the final Test. That too with Pakistan 13-2 and more than 350 still to get. Younis has been much hailed of course by all the greats but he has been devoid of most support by some key players and officials during his time, especially in the early days. He has had to singularly fight it out for his place in the side on many occasions. I know of captains who tried to put him down as well as managers on tour who would have none of him and even had squabbles with him simply because Younis was not someone who would not pander to authorities and keep to himself. Today he has put all of them to shame. Imagine how many runs he could have got had he not been sent into pseudo exile by officials and selectors.
And what do you say of Misbah-ul-Haq? He is time and again put down by his detractors, some of them prominent players of the past. Yet he comes out with magic. Every time he is down, he either does something on his own or the team rises for him. At Pallekele it was a bit of both though when he came in to bat in the second innings the victory was quite assured. And it must be said that when the team fights a lot of the credit goes to the captain for it has to do with inspiration and a commitment to the team.
Clearly his calming nature has rubbed off on the team when there are not rebellious attitudes. He has struggled to lead in ODI cricket simply because in limited-over cricket there is little time to stage a comeback when things go awry. And some players have clearly not listened to him there in the seasons leading up to the World Cup earlier this year.
Here with a set of players who do, like Asad Shafiq, Azhar Ali, Sarfraz Ahmed and of course Younis Khan Pakistan get to recharge when they are down. These players have been either missing from the ODI side or played as guests every odd series.
Let’s also talk about Yasir Shah. This young man, even though he has come later than he should have in the Pakistan side, has transformed the attack. He has bowled with guile and skill and taken wickets this series against batsmen who are extremely adept at playing spin on their home turf. More than anything he has brought aggression into the bowling attack ever since he has come in against the Australians at UAE last year. What has been his standout achievement is his ability to strike late and when the opposite team seems settled, like in the first Test when he contrived a win for Pakistan out of nowhere.
Pakistan have now risen to third in the ICC Test rankings and I say again that there is enormous talent in Pakistan if only it is sought out. And given consistent opportunities. Many more Pallekeles await us if this is done.