Played on a dead Abu Dhabi wicket, Pakistan’s first Test against England provided a perfect opportunity to Younis and Malik to steal the limelight
If Younis Khan stole the headlines on the opening day at Abu Dhabi certainly it was Shoaib Malik who stole it on the second. And indeed it has been one of the greatest comebacks of all time in any format of the game at any stage. Can’t recall a batsman coming back into a Test side after five years and scoring a big double hundred.
To think that I had thought he was done and dusted after successive failures in two brief comebacks, one of them in the 2013 Champions Trophy. Certainly there was reason for thinking he was not a contender for a recall considering how woefully he disappointed with both bat and ball.
But from the time he has made a reentry this year he has grabbed his chances and none more so than when he blasted a hundred against the visiting Zimbabweans and then never looked back in Sri Lanka and more recently on the return trip to Zimbabwe.
It has been clearly an innings well played. While it may be pointed out that it came on a flat pitch against English bowlers coming out of the cold of the British Isles and operating in torrid heat, nothing can take away from the fact that this climate can also take its toll on the stamina and mental capacity of a batsman. It takes tons of concentration to score 245 over ten hours.
On to the other man who has earmarked this Test match for posterity. It was a matter of time since Younis Khan’s magnificent twin series a year ago today that he would overtake Javed Miandad as Pakistan’s highest run scorer in Tests, and yet the event was waited for anxiously. Many remembered how Inzamam had fallen short by a mere 6 runs in cataclysmic fashion eight years back at the Gaddafi Stadium.
But then Inzamam was on notice, it being his last chance offered by the PCB. For Younis there was, his fitness allowing, many months ahead to take the lead as Pakistan’s top run getter. Ironic that Inzamam had fallen while going for a six to break the record and Younus was successful when he went to break the record in the same fashion.
Younis now looks set to become Pakistan’s first batsman to cross the 10,000 run mark. A couple of years away from his 40th birthday he feels like 35 on the field, such is his high level of fitness. Plus he has a determination that few can match and once he sets his mind to something there is precious little that anyone can do about it.
About the Pakistan batting in general it has been as solid as expected despite Shan Masood finding himself out of depth with the experience of Jamed Anderson.
That seems to be the only potential opening for vice-captain Azhar Ali to get back into the first XI after a toe infection kept him away from playing in Abu Dhabi. There is no one else to drop. Which means Azhar steps up to open, something he has done with considerable success in the ODIs. If he does it’ll mean Pakistan go in with a new opening pair for the third time in three Tests, with Shan having opened with Ahmed Shahzad in the final Test against Sri Lanka and now with Mohammad Hafeez.
In fact it was quite a good call to go in with Hafeez as opener in this Test rather than Shahzad who nevertheless has got runs on these wickets. Though both Hafeez and Shahzad were performing poorly in the limited over games leading up to this Test series, Shahzad was clearly on weaker footing.
Hafeez has recently shown the temperament to do well in Test matches while Shahzad has been somewhat unreliable, often getting out to careless acts. In limited over games you can defend going for the shots but not in five day games.
Like Malik, Hafeez had to prove a lot in this Test and like him was on trial considering the talent waiting outside. In fact had Shahzad been preferred to retain his place for this Test Hafeez would have been hard pressed to regain a place if one from Shahzad or Shan had got runs since first choice for the second Test would have been Azhar Ali. As such he made most of his chance offered by the tour selection committee.
Misbah has nevertheless pointed out the fallacy in Pakistan’s selection by picking only two specialist spinners when they were in the knowledge that Hafeez would not be able to bowl. But then Misbah should have been more assertive.
He knew from the time the team had been announced that it contained only two spinners and one could have been injured at any time. Perhaps they had not thought of a last minute pull out though when Zafar was considered being retained as the 16th member, then he should have been held back even if Malik was enlisted at the last minute. But he has been in the game long enough to know that last minute injuries take place all the time, some as close as a half hour before the toss.
On the Test itself England bowlers had their skins taken off at Abu Dhabi as I had predicted last week and especially the spinners who I had thought were not of the same calibre as Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar who took 27 wickets between them in 2012 here. But with two more Tests to come they will learn.